CPA calls out for more emphasis on ACE

CPA calls out for more emphasis on ACE

The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on people is being called by Chithuen Phenday Association (CPA), a civil society organization (CSO) based in Thimphu, as one of the main factors leading to substance abuse. The CSO, which is undertaking one of the most intense drug advocacy programs after the Covid 19 pandemic, says it has witnessed the devastating impact of ACEs on individuals and communities. According to the CSO, 90% of the clients who attended the drug rehabilitation treatment program at CPA had experienced at least four ACEs, which has sparked the Association to prioritize ACE prevention and control activities in order to address mental health issues and social problems.

“To address this issue, we have been consistently conducting ACE advocacy programs in schools and workplaces. However, a comprehensive national program is necessary to effectively address the problem and we believe that by establishing such a program, we can reduce the prevalence of ACEs and mitigate the long-term effects of childhood trauma,” Tshewang Tenzin, CPA’s executive director (ED) said.

ACEs refer to a wide range of potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood and adolescence such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, and exposure to violence or substance abuse. ACEs can have serious and long-lasting negative impacts on the child’s development and well-being. Studies have shown that exposure to ACEs can increase the risk of developing a wide range of negative outcomes, including behavioural and mental health problems, chronic health conditions, and reduced educational attainment.

“There is a growing concern about the prevalence of ACEs and their negative impact on children, families, and communities. Despite efforts to address these challenges, children continue to be exposed to ACEs, leading to ongoing harm and long-term negative consequences. Moreover, the impacts of ACEs are often compounded by a lack of access to adequate support and resources, including mental health services, counseling, and therapy,” Tsewang said. According to him, information regarding ACEs in Bhutan is seldom found as no ACEs studies had been conducted. “Scholars, researchers, and academia failed to prioritize ACE as an area of concern. Health professionals, educationists, social workers, and policymakers are naïve about the magnitude of ACEs in the country thus leading to program designs that have failed to address the root cause of poor health, mental health problems, substance abuse, and involvement in wrongdoings and crime in the country,” he added. 

“As per our last 11 years of experience in addiction field, CPA has seen that 90% of the clients who attended the drug rehabilitation treatment program have experienced at least four ACEs. Thus, we feel that one of root cause of drug addiction is due to ACEs,” he added.

Elaborating on the relationship between ACE and substance abuse, Tsewang said that individuals develop based on the way they are brought up during their formative years. “In other words, it is the experiences that individuals are pre-disposed to that ultimately determines the life they are going to lead later on. If a person has had adverse childhood experiences, he/she may develop traumas that can manifest in later parts of their lives. People who abuse substance do so in order to fill up the void which is nothing but the traumas manifesting,” he said. “For instance, a child brought up in an abusive family may find difficulties in opening up or trusting people in general in their adulthood. Such individuals may find refuge or seek solace in drugs because they may find themselves feeling complete or competent only when intoxicated. These individuals may find abusing substance as the answer to the doubts they may have regarding themselves. With continuous use, one becomes conditioned to substances, mentally and physically.”

Tsewang also underlined that there are limited addiction professional in the country apart from limited demand reduction services. “There is also the need to strengthen coordination and collaboration among government and CSOs to address the growing issue of drug and alcohol,” the ED said. He further mentioned that strong stigma and discrimination associated with addiction from the general public, “with even educated people thinking that addiction is problem rather than looking from a medical lens as a disease,” is another challenge confronted.

CPA’s program officer, Dawa Penjore, meanwhile highlighted the need to take advocacy programs to the grassroots.  “Most of the people in rural areas think addiction is as a behavior problem. Due to the strong stigma associated with addiction they are reluctant to open up their issues. They lack information on availability of services in the country and are not aware on rising issues of drug, alcohol and related mental health in the country,” Dawa said. He also mentioned that due to lack of services in primary health centers, people can’t afford to visit district hospitals. “The preventive programs on substances were never conducted for our rural communities and as of now gewog does not have any planned budget to implement such activities,” he said.

Beginning July 31, 2023, CPA has begun drug advocacy program called “Yes We Care,” from Mongaar. The campaign will be conducted till September 8, 2023 and will cover the four districts of Mongaar, Lhuntse, Trashiyangtse and Trashigang.

Dawa said that the campaign is driven by a deep sense of worry and concern for the well-being of the youth. “Despite our collective efforts as parents, educators, and a society, we are witnessing a distressing trend of youth falling victim to drug abuse, violence, and various other challenges. This alarming reality clearly indicates that we are failing our young generation, and our existing policies and systems are falling short in providing the necessary support,” he said. Dawa noted that more than ever before, Bhutan is witnessing a surge in youth drug users and mental health issues. “It is imperative that we urgently come together to address these pressing concerns and show our unwavering support for our young people by saying, ‘Yes, we care,’” he added.

ED Tsewang underlined that the theme message, “Yes, We Care” signifies CPA’s acknowledgment of the critical situation youths today face. “It is an admission that we have not been successful in safeguarding their well-being as parents, educators, and as a society. This theme resonates with the urgent need for concerted efforts and collective action to demonstrate our care and support for our young people,” he added.

“Through the campaign, CPA aims to send a powerful message that we refuse to let our youth slip through the cracks. We refuse to accept a future where their potential is squandered due to drug abuse and other challenges. Our campaign calls upon every individual to unite and show their commitment to our youth by actively participating in this endeavor”.

Tsewang further added that the campaign emphasizes the need for a united front, involving parents, educators, community members, government officials, and stakeholders from all walks of life. “By joining forces, we can collectively address the root causes of drug abuse, violence, and mental health issues among our youth. We must create an environment where our young people feel supported, valued, and empowered to make positive choices,” he said.

“We cannot afford to stand idly by while our youth face significant challenges. We must act collectively and urgently to address their needs, showing them that we genuinely care about their well-being. We have to come together, be united in our resolve to support our young people and create a brighter future for them,” CPA’s ED reiterated.

Through the program, CPA envisages to quip young individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills to make informed decisions, resist peer pressure, and lead drug-free lives and support parents in creating nurturing environments for their children, promoting healthy family dynamics, and breaking the cycle of drug abuse. It is also aimed to provide intervention and support services to individuals who are currently struggling with drug and alcohol use.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu