Hyderabad: A week into lockdown, Devyani’s (name changed) 30-year-old alcoholic son started developing withdrawal symptoms.

Not only he started beating his mother, but he also started behaving strangely. Doctors tried to calm him down with medicines but that did not work. One day, he ran away and never to return.  Now the single mother is going from pillar to post to locate her son.

Devyani is not an isolated case. For the last one week deaths due to starvation and withdrawals have reached 15 in Telangana.  All liquor shops, bars, and restaurants have been shut given the restrictions and lockdown.

Some of the alcoholics allegedly committed suicide. Others developed withdrawal symptoms and seizures. The victims include a woman in Nizamabad district, who allegedly consumed phenyl mistaking it as toddy. A man allegedly slashed his wrist at Khairatabad of Hyderabad after he could not get alcohol.

Such incidents were reported from across the city including Bachupally, Dundigal, Jeedimetla, Chandanagar, Asif Nagar, Malkajgiri, Pahadi Shareef and several other places.

“People have an attitude that he is a drunkard and doesn’t deserve anything. We look at it as a human weakness. Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease and not a bad habit. It is like any other disease which deserves the same kind of support and help. The wrong attitude of our society is the reason for deaths”, Dr. Purnima Nagaraja, a senior psychiatrist based in Hyderabad, told NewsMeter

What has complicated the problem is bootlegging, black marketing and hooch

“All liquor shops are closed. Cashing on the situation, some unscrupulous elements are selling contaminating toddy with varnish, sleeping pills, acetone, nail polish, and turpentine. People consuming it develop health complications,” said Dr. Purnima.

Sample this: A person came out of the Himalaya store with 20 whiteners. He emptied it onto a cloth and started sucking that cloth to get high.

To reduce withdrawals, people are buying volatile liquids like turpentine, linseed oil used in paint, diesel, and petrol. They are trying to sniff the substance to get high.

Erragadda Mental Hospital is witnessing a surge of alcoholics, who have gone berserk after failing to get the booze, in the lockdown. Hospital officials said more than 100 patients have been reported for treatment after they inflicted wounds on themselves.

“A young boy called me up asking me if I can prescribe him alternative because he is not getting LST in the market. People are dying for Vodka, tobacco, alcohol, and ganja. Even in government hospitals if you are a chronic alcoholic, they will give you tablets and a little alcohol. It is a very sensible treatment. A few cigarettes to pull it on or a few packets of tobacco to chew and bring down the withdrawal,” Dr. Purnima said

Even Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the government is planning to provide a small quantity of liquor to heavy alcoholics with withdrawal symptoms to avoid suicides. The development came after five people in Kerala committed suicide and more than 25 persons were admitted in de-addiction centers.

However, the decision faced a setback with doctors maintaining that it was unethical to prescribe liquor as medicine.

“Ethically we shouldn’t be giving alcohol because of the treatment guidelines.  There are specific treatments for alcoholism which many of the government hospitals in India are not doing because of the budget constraints. Tyamin, B12 injection is the main thing that we give which is not available in villages. Mental health has got the least budget,” she added

Erragadda Mental Hospital, Superintendent, Vunna Shankar agreed that due to the non-availability of Alcohol, patients have been suffering from withdrawal problems.

“The cases have been gradually increasing from Saturday. There were 16 cases on Saturday. On Sunday there were 25 cases, out of which, 5-6 were serious. On Monday, the number of cases went up to 94. There are psychiatrists available in each district of the state to treat the patients. So people can get treated wherever they are”, Dr. Shanker said.

However, the doctor does not support the Kerala model of fighting alcohol.

“Alcohol is not a remedy. What we need to do is detoxification. Instead of alcohol, we need to give medicine which will help to bring down withdrawals. Almost 27 districts of Telangana have psychiatrists available. We have trained district medical health officers. We have also informed them to intimate the officials in Hyderabad so that we can help them with treatment guidance,” said Dr. Shankar.

According to the treatment guidelines, a doctor cannot prescribe alcohol to a patient. Liquor is not a medicine to treat alcoholism in modern medicine. However, in India, treatment for drug addiction is called cold turkey where you abruptly make them stop drinking and admit them somewhere.

“We have only 6500 psychiatrists for 1.4 billion population. We don’t even have a 1:1000 ratio of physicians. Hence, now it makes sense to give them alcohol in tiny quantities of 10 or 20 ml and hold it down though no treatment guideline advises that. In a crisis period we must think of crisis management rather than the accepted ethical norms of treatment,” Dr. Purnima opined.

Dheeshma Puzhakkal

Dheeshma Puzhakkal is currently a Reporter with Newsmeter. An alumnus of Hyderabad Central University, she has interned with Greater Kashmir newspaper and NDTV. Dheeshma has also made short films and documentaries. Her documentary ‘Still I Rise’, which is based on sex-trafficking in Hyderabad’s Old City, has earned accolades in several film festivals, such as International Documentary and Short Film Festival, Kerala (IDSFFK). An avid foodie, she loves to travel and listen to stories that others tell. Photography is one of her all-time interests. She has extensively written on satellite-based journalism, health, consumer, and data stories besides covering anti-crime investigative agencies.

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