This article originally appeared on VICE India.
The nationwide lockdown has gripped India in a way that leaves some of us reassured, yet reveals the depths of economic disparity. While we are already dealing with a lack of a proper system to keep essentials afloat and thousands of migrant labourers dying of starvation or exhaustion, the state of Kerala has another pressing issue.
Due to liquor stores being shut during the lockdown (apparently, alcohol is not an essential commodity though no one checked with us while making the list of what’s essential), it seems that many alcohol-dependant citizens are having major withdrawal symptoms. And while Kerala only has one reported COVID-19 death, it also reportedly has nine alcohol-related deaths over the past few days. These include seven cases of suicide with the families alleging that not having access to alcohol was a reason behind them, one cardiac arrest because of withdrawal, and one who died after consuming aftershave lotion assuming it’d be an acceptable substitute of liquor.
In this grave situation, the state government is scrambling to find a solution. So, they may give out “medical passes”, by which alcohol-dependent citizens can get a prescription from a doctor and buy small quantities of alcohol from the excise department.
The idea is to ration out prescribed, small doses of alcohol to prevent any violent kind of withdrawal symptoms including depression, hallucinations and fits. However, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and Kerala Government Medical Officers' Association have rejected this exercise, saying it wasn’t “scientific”. Concerned that this move will only deepen their dependency instead of allowing alcoholics to overcome it through medicines, medical experts have also suggested the alcoholics approach de-addiction centres instead.
They also point out that while a doctor can issue a certificate saying the person is alcohol-dependent, they cannot technically dole out a liquor permit, and doing so may result in a cancellation of their medical license.
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