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Illicit alcohol deaths: The crisis continues

Illicit alcohol.
Customers queue at a liquor store in Varkala, Kerala.

Another round of deaths has once more brought one of the major issues blighting public health in Uttar Pradesh to the forefront: illicit alcohol.

Reports have surfaced this week of deaths in the Barabanki district of India’s most populous state, with consumption of hooch said to be responsible. Eighteen people have died at the time of writing in that district, with neighbouring district Sitapur also reporting two deaths due to illicit alcohol consumption. A man accused in relation to deaths was arrested following a gunfight with police officers. Six arrests have been made according to The Hindustan Times.

Uttar Pradesh is no stranger to fatal instances of poisoning from bootleg alcohol. Earlier this year, the state and its neighbour Uttarakhand witnessed more than 130 deaths in adjoining districts due to consuming illicit alcohol contaminated with methanol. This is hardly surprising, however, when you note that “of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol consumed every year in India, around forty percent is illegally produced” as previously reported by Health Issues India.

This black market trade is facilitated in part by the prohibitionist policies enforced in six states and union territories driving alcohol production underground while alcoholism rates in the country rise. The crisis of bootleg alcohol has led to hundreds of deaths in recent years. At least 100 slum dwellers died in Mumbai in 2015. Ahmedabad in Gujarat witnessed 136 fatal poisonings in 2009. In 2008, more than 170 hooch-related deaths were observed thanks to a contaminated batch in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

It is clear that action must be taken against illegal vendors of alcohol, as more individuals fall prey to their sales tactics and take ill – even dying – because of being poisoned by contaminants. With alcohol use in India rising, the need is to ensure that the public health effects are understood and that consumers – especially in prohibitionist states – are wary of any potentially contaminated batches of booze, for the sake of theirs and others’ health.

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