This coronavirus pandemic has triggered a series of realisations for the Indian people, whether it was discovering that our public healthcare system is underfunded or that we don’t really like sitting at home and watching Netflix all day, 2020 has revealed a lot about us. One striking realisation, though, is that it’s a really bad idea to shut down liquor shops even during a global pandemic. Let me rephrase that - it’s not just bad, it’s borderline dangerous to people’s lives as for some Indians, liquor shops are like a sanctuary and alcohol is their saving grace. They will do anything, anything at all to get a taste of the bitter-tasting intoxicant to feel that sweet release of endorphins, including chugging a bottle of hand sanitizer. You read that right, Indians are drinking hand sanitizer.
The Indian Express reported that on 3rd August, police in Andhra Pradesh’s Prakasam district found 235 Indians who have become addicted to drinking sanitizers as a replacement for alcohol. There were 16 fatalities caused by this outrageous act in the district’s Kurichedu mandal.
Why are Indians drinking hand sanitizers?
Most areas in Kurichedu, Darsi and Vinukonda mandals are listed as containment zones, thus, all liquor shops are instructed to remain closed. This has been difficult for Indians that are alcohol addicts as they have resorted to drinking hand sanitizers as a desperate measure to fulfil their addiction. The Indian Express reported that people had held a ‘sanitizer’ party in Kurichedu last week; a dark take on partying as if there’s no tomorrow. “Two persons who died last week had hosted a sanitizer party on July 29 for some relatives who had come to visit them from Guntur. They consumed a lot of sanitizer mixed with water or soft drinks,” an official told the Indian Express.
Andhra Pradesh police visit houses to identify possible sanitizer-drinking Indians
Superintendent Siddharth Kaushal tells the Indian Express that there may be more people involved, “We are in the process of identifying more people. It is an ongoing process and we are in continuous engagement with them, counselling them and telling them about the dangers of consuming sanitizers.”
Teams of police personnel said they are visiting families in villages to identify and inspect if any family members are consuming sanitizers. They’re also planning to seize sanitizer bottles, however, this can be a little tricky as taking sanitizers away also means depriving them of protection from the virus.
That is why, along with seizing sanitizers, the police is also informing addicts how harmful chemicals in the sanitizer can cause death in a few days. According to Deputy SP K Prakash Rao, “All those consuming sanitizers are extremely poor daily-wagers, beggars or labourers.” Hence, they may be unaware that the alcohol in sanitizers isn’t the same as drinkable liquor.
People resorted to sanitizers as all liquor shops were shut
The SP made a statement saying, “Till a few days ago if liquor shops in one area were closed, they remained open in other areas. But it is a unique situation here as all the liquor shops in the three mandals are closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. There are a large number of liquor addicts in the area who drink daily. A beggar gave them the idea of consuming sanitizers. While gel sanitizers are costly, the liquid is very cheap compared to liquor.”
The Indian Express reported that a special investigation team was set up to investigate the deaths that occurred in Kurichedu as well as to find out why there was an availability of cheap liquid sanitizers in such large quantities.
Furthermore, Drug Control Administration (DCA) and experts at de-addiction centres have taken the step to spread more awareness on the dangers of consuming sanitizers.
Addicts are unaware of the risks of consuming sanitizers
Dr Venkateshwarlu, a gastroenterologist tells the New Indian Express about the perils of this act, “Regular consumption of sanitizer can lead to one developing heart and gastrointestinal problems. It may cause liver damage and brain stroke, apart from other complications, in a very short span of time. If consumed on an empty stomach, the sanitizer will enter the blood flow, causing cardiomyopathy that can cause heart failure and eventual death.”
Experts at the de-addiction centre reported that they are having a hard time to counsel Indians who have been drinking hand sanitizer as it’s a very novel challenge for them. Dr Raghavendra Rao, nodal officer of the centre at RIMS, Ongole, told the New Indian Express, “The people say that unavailability and high price of liquor are prompting them to consume sanitizer. However, they are now starting to realise how dangerous it can be for them.”
It may seem like they’re playing roulette with their life with the odds tilting towards death but most of it is due to misinformation and addicts’ nagging tendencies towards alcohol. However, it’s a relief to learn that the police is pro-actively educating Indians about the risks of drinking hand sanitizer. According to the Indian Express, The Special Enforcement Bureau has also deployed teams to survey 34 surrounding villages.