ERNAKULAM: The alcohol ban in Kerala seems to be killing more people than the virus itself in the state, which has one of India’s highest per capita liquor consumption. The state, like the rest of India, has been forced to go dry in the wake of the ongoing 21-day nationwide lockdown.
In the past week, seven people committed suicide out of depression over not being able to buy alcohol in Kerala, while the virus has resulted in one casualty so far.
On Saturday alone, two people committed suicide in Kerala’s Kollam, another person killed himself in Kannur, two suicide attempts were made in Malappuram and a 35-year old was transferred to a de-addiction center after he turned violent in Kottayam district, according to various reports. The state has an estimated 1.6 million liquor addicts.
To be sure, the state saw this coming.
Despite a popular backlash, Kerala held out for weeks without taking a decision, before finally shutting down bars and state-licensed beverage outlets last week. When questioned, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had cited the social problems an alcohol ban would create as a reason for not shutting not down bars.
His fears may have come true. The state’s hospitals and frontline health and community workers— already burdened by the coronavirus scare— are overwhelmed by families approaching for help because of withdrawal symptoms of alcoholics, forcing the state to issue a set of guidelines to control the situation.
The guidelines have asked primary health centres to manage the bulk of the withdrawal symptoms, so that bigger medical colleges are not burdened with such cases. The government has asked every district hospital to ready 10 to 20 beds for patients seeking de-addiction, according to Kiran PS, the nodal officer for the state’s mental health programme.
After the alcohol ban, the 14405 toll free number of Kerala’s Excise department’s de-addiction programme called ‘Vimukthi’ is flooded with distress calls until, at times, as early as 4am. Mental health specialists working in the call centres recounted cases as strange as someone hallucinating about a child buried in his courtyard, or refusing to accept their own house.
Some were plainly screaming, they said, that they will die if refused alcohol anymore. Also, there is a spike in people trying to get drugs sometimes used to treat alcohol addiction or induce alcohol-like effects, said PV Tomy, Ernakulam district president of All Kerala Chemists and Druggists Association.
Flooded with the distress, Vijayan on Saturday said the state will provide liquor to the addicts if their doctors prescribe so. Local reports say de-addiction centers are also seeing a spike.