Monday, April 16, 2018

Imbibing Poison

"They [bootleggers and their distributors] are part of a close-knit community. Sometimes, when police come to check on a tip they have already put the bootleg alcohol away. They know who their customers are when they come. It's much like a clandestine narcotics network."
"In the past, bootleg alcohol was found to be a mixture of alcohol and energy drinks. Some are a mix of pure alcohol, carbonated drinks and an ingredient used in anti-mosquito repellent." 
Inspector General Setyo Wasisto, national police spokesman
"Restricted distribution and sales of alcohol is creating unintended consequences. People are turning to unrecorded [bootleg] alcohol instead."
"Legal alcohol is available in bars, restaurants, discotheques and restaurants, but for many low-income people who can't afford to go to these places, they prefer to drink bootleg alcohol."
"The rise in the number of people who have died after drinking bootleg liquor is related to the prohibition of alcoholic beverage distribution and sales in areas across Indonesia as well as liquor sale restrictions stipulated in a Trade Ministry regulation."
Sugianto Tandra, researcher, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies
At a hospital in Cicalengka, West Java, family members on Monday move the body of a relative who died from drinking poisonous bootleg liquor.
At a hospital in Cicalengka, West Java, family members on Monday move the body of a relative who died from drinking poisonous bootleg liquor.  The Jakarta Post
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Alcohol consumption is not an Islamic value; it is in fact, condemned by most Muslim scholars, clerics and governments alike. In Indonesia alcohol has a certain popularity, to the extent that the government sees no avenue where it can be forbidden, so it has resorted to high taxes in an effort to dissuade people from drinking. 
The result has been people turning away from conventional alcohol, since it is no longer readily accessible as it once was as well, sold in little corner stores.

In the government's efforts to curb legal alcohol use, people have turned instead to bootleg liquor. Some of it is so toxic that people are dying in great numbers from its effects. In West Java in a number of days, 51 people died, consuming bootleg liquor, and another 31 in Jakarta. Near the West Java capital of Bandung over 90 people were hospitalized in just a few days.

"All the patients come with shortness of breath, diminished consciousness and many whose vision is blurred", said a doctor with the single name of Amelia, at the Cicalengka hospital operated by the state. The poor in Indonesia have turned to the black market to avoid taxation in a country where, though alcohol is legal, its use is discouraged.
Bootleg distilling's byproduct of potentially lethal methanol is taking its toll. The tainted alcohol is even on occasion mixed with soft drinks. Police say that pure alcohol is combined at times with diverse and inappropriate ingredients that pose a real threat to the imbiber; such as cough mixture and even insect repellent.
So far in West Java, police have arrested seven people suspected of having mixed or sold bootleg liquor. "We have not yet found any link among them" said Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiki, speaking for the police. "Based on their confessions, they worked independently, each mixing the drinks in their own way such as using cough remedies, ointments and mosquito repellent."
The more things change, the more they resemble what has occurred before; a parody of the era in the United States during Prohibition; one with monstrously deadly consequences. Where Indonesia is grappling with the deadly effects of toxic alcohol, the West is now attempting to cope with the influx of deadly, powerful opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, coming out of laboratories in China.

Arak fabrication in Flores, Indonesia by distillation of palm juice in a unique pot still. Source: Peter Verreussel / Shutterstock

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