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TOXIC BREW: ON THE INCREASE OF LIQUOR TRAGEDIES

Focus: GS-I Social Issues

Why in news?

With respect to the recent scourge of illicit liquor striking Punjab, killing more than 100 and crippling many others – the State government (responsible for both excise and law and order) has sanctioned financial relief for the affected families, and suspended some policemen and officials in charge of excise enforcement.

Introduction

  • During the lockdown, there have been various incidents of large number of people losing lives or becoming crippled due to consumption of denatured alcohol in various states.
  • There have been fatal outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people desperate for alcohol consumed hand sanitiser as a substitute.
  • Almost every year, India’s moonshine market inflicts tremendous destruction in the form of blindness, tissue damage and death, as commercial alcohol becomes expensive for the less affluent, and corrupt bureaucracies allow that void to be filled by illicit liquor vendors who almost invariably use toxic methanol instead of ethanol.

Issues that need fixing

  • Policies that fail to contain illicit alcohol produce long-term health impacts, as people tend to consume brews that have higher concentrations of alcohol, or toxic substances such as methanol.
  • Several States give low priority to revamping the excise administration and policing, paving the way for episodic death and misery.
  • According to the latest figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 1,522 people died of drinking spurious liquor in 2015 — nearly all of them men.
  • Deaths from illicit liquor are common in India, where illegally manufactured alcohol is often consumed for reasons including poverty and geographic isolation.

Hooch Poisoning

‘Hooch’ is a term used for spurious alcoholic preparations and consumption of such preparations is harmful / fatal.

Spurious liquors include:

  1. Illicit liquor (un-authorized preparation, not fit for human consumption and not complying with the BIS standards) and
  2. Denatured alcohol (prepared for industrial uses and is rendered entirely unfit for human consumption by adding denaturants).

Liquor prepared locally from coco-palm, rice, molasses or jaggery, mahuva, etc., are sometimes fortified with industrial alcohol to increase the alcohol concentration or to meet the demand. Consumption of such liquor also causes poisoning tragedies if it is mixed with methyl alcohol.

Methanol Poisoning

  • Methyl alcohol (methanol) is a commonly used adulterant because of its appearance and taste similar to ethyl alcohol and its easy availability.
  • On consumption, methanol is changed into formic acid inside the body.
  • The accumulation of formic acid in the body adversely affects various organ systems.
  • Methanol poisoning can result in death within few hours if not treated immediately or may be delayed for a few days.

Way Forward

  • From a medical viewpoint, the availability of licit spirits that contain lower alcohol levels, combined with a sustained public health campaign to wean people away from the drinking habit and to warn them about the effects of contaminants are key interventions.
  • The capability of the health system in every district needs to be raised, to reduce the damage from methanol through immediate, simple detoxification therapies.
  • Health communication about harm from alcohol is particularly relevant during the pandemic, since there is evidence of reduced immunity to viruses among those who are chronic alcohol consumers.
  • As the World Health Organization points out, governments should regulate the quality of legal alcoholic drinks, while actively tracing and tracking illicit alcohol.
  • This can be achieved only through cooperation from the community, particularly from women’s groups.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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