KOLLKATA, (C.M. Paul) -Though, every now and then, people die due to the consumption of illicit liquour, one of the worst ever liquor tragedy struck West Bengal on 13 December. It has killed some 150 people as of 16 Dec 2011. It is feared that number of victims who will die will rise.
The hooch victims were mostly daily wage earners, casual labourers, rickshaw-pullers and hawkers. Over 50 people are still battling for life in three hospitals after consuming spurious liquor at Mograhat in South 24 Parganas district since Wednesday.
Experts believe there is cure for alcohol poisoning – and the cure is alcohol itself. Medically controlled dosages of Indian made foreign liquor (or IMFL – the term for spirits distilled inIndia as opposed to imported whiskey like Scotch) can render lethal effects of methyl spirit poisoning ineffective till proper medical remedy arrives.
The historic liquor tragedy which occurred on the Onam day of 1982 in the Vypeen Island off Kochi had killed 78 people, blinded 63, crippled 15 and nearly 650 families were reduced to penury. Major tragedy was averted by a local social activist Sarvodayam Kurian, who with out waiting for government action hired an auto-rickshaw, fixed two loud speakers on top of the auto (one facing front and the other facing back) and drove through every nook and corner of 21 km long and 3 km wide Vypin Island announcing that victims be given IMFL as first aid. This unorthodox but scientifically effective antidote followed by proper medical assistance saved hundreds of lives that day.
The Vypeen tipplers had their drink (arrack spiked with methyl alcohol) from the licenced shops. Kerala High court ordered compensation of Rs. 1 lakh each to victims of the victims of the tragedy.
In the May 2008 liquor tragedy in Karnataka some 180 people died.
Alcohol available can be broadly classified as potable (ethyl) and poisonous (methyl). The differences between the two are the alphabet ‘m’ and dosage.
While ethyl or rectified spirit/industrial alcohol made from a base of easily available molasses sourced from sugar mills sells in its diluted, coloured, flavoured, potable version as whiskey, brandy and rum, its poisonous cousin methyl (spirit distilled from wood), though almost similar in taste, is pure poison.
Research has shown that some of the known brands had traces of methyl alcohol to provide a quick ‘high’ sought by drunks.
All overIndia, bootleggers lace their unhygienic hooch with a small dose, around one percent, of methyl alcohol – upon the bidding of those who host parties – to excite poverty- stricken sections of society herded to vote, agitate, celebrate or mourn depending upon the occasion.
Doctors reveal the spurious liquor victim’s tragic last moments.
The human body’s digestive tracts convert methyl alcohol, a heavy intoxicant, into highly toxic metabolites. Since the victims are always poor strangers, absence of previous medical history or improperly communicated symptoms due to patients’ delirious state confuses doctors and leads to acidosis, blindness and eventual, painful death.
Usually, only three percent of lethal doses exceeding 500 ml can be excreted before treatment. In an inebriated state, symptoms of drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain are generally mistaken for an alcohol hangover, compounding the danger, because such patients normally don’t look for medical help till it is too late.
Patients approach hospitals when these symptoms worsen into shallow respiration, cyanosis, coma, seizures, electrolyte disturbances and profound hypotension. Loss of memory, confusion, stupor and coma would render the victim beyond help. Blindness or death soon follows.