Fighting fire with fire: IMFL as antidote for liquor poisoning

May 28th, 2008 - 9:29 am ICT by admin  

By T.S.V. Hari
Chennai, May 28 (IANS) It’s a bit like fighting fire with fire. Experts believe there is cure for alcohol poisoning of the kind that killed 180 people in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu - and the cure is alcohol itself. “Medically controlled dosages of Indian made foreign liquor (or IMFL - the term for spirits distilled in India as opposed to imported whiskey like Scotch) can render lethal effects of methyl spirit poisoning ineffective till proper medical remedy arrives,” says renowned forensic expert Prof. P. Chandra Sekharan.

Since the IMFL is easily available, any general physician can administer it somewhat safely, the expert told IANS.

Over 180 people have died since May 18 in Bangalore, surrounding areas and in Kolar district in Karnataka and in neighbouring Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district after consuming spurious liquor.

Bangalore police suspect that the killer brew is methyl alcohol mixed with water. The tragedy began in Kolar district, 68 km from Bangalore, and Krishnagiri a week ago. Within hours, it had hit Bangalore city.

More than 40 people, including suspected kingpin who was identified as Soundar Rajan, have been arrested in Karnataka and over 70 cases have been registered against them.

“Alcohol available can be broadly classified as potable (ethyl) and poisonous (methyl). The differences between the two are the alphabet ‘m’ and dosage,” Chandra Sekharan said.

While ethyl or rectified spirit/industrial alcohol made from a base of easily available molasses sourced from sugar mills sells in its diluted, coloured, flavoured, potable version as whiskey, brandy and rum, its poisonous cousin methyl (spirit distilled from wood),though almost similar in taste, is pure poison, according to Chandra Sekharan.

“Research has shown that some of the known brands had traces of methyl alcohol to provide a quick ‘high’ sought by drunks,” he said.

Tamil Nadu’s retired director general of police S. Sripal said: “All over India, bootleggers lace their unhygienic hooch with a small dose, around one percent, of methyl alcohol - upon the bidding of those who host parties - to excite poverty- stricken sections of society herded to vote, agitate, celebrate or mourn depending upon the occasion.

“Perhaps the latest incident was a mixture of all these with an overdose of methyl alcohol - beyond the prescribed limit of one percent which made it lethal,” he said.

A doctor revealed the spurious liquor victim’s tragic last moments.

“The human body’s digestive tracts convert methyl alcohol, a heavy intoxicant, into highly toxic metabolites. Since the victims are always poor strangers, absence of previous medical history or improperly communicated symptoms due to patients’ delirious state confuses doctors and leads to acidosis, blindness and eventual, painful death,” G.S. Kailash, a top physician here, told IANS.

“Usually, only three percent of lethal doses exceeding 500 ml can be excreted before treatment. In an inebriated state, symptoms of drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain are generally mistaken for an alcohol hangover, compounding the danger, because such patients normally don’t look for medical help till it is too late,” Kailash said.

“Patients approach hospitals when these symptoms worsen into shallow respiration, cyanosis, coma, seizures, electrolyte disturbances and profound hypotension. Loss of memory, confusion, stupor and coma would render the victim beyond help. Blindness or death soon follows,” Kailash warned.

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