Many of these patients are exhibiting psychotic behaviour and screams like that of mental asylums echo on through the night

Addicted to adulterated toddy for years hundreds in Telangana are suffering from withdrawalFresh and bubbling toddy (Image: Wikimedia commons/Vinay Kudithipudi)
news Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - 15:14

Monday was a very traumatic day for Tirumanesh and his wife Saritha, hailing from Jadcherla, a town in Mahbubnagar district around 83 km from Hyderabad. Tirumanesh's 62-year-old mother Laxmamma was writhing in pain as it had been days since she had drank any adulterated toddy, due to Telangana's crackdown on all forms of illicit and adulterated liquor.

Seeing her toss around and scream in pain, her daughter-in-law decided that some toddy will make her feel better and so set out to the neighbouring village of Donnur to procure some illicit liquor. 

"With her son gone to work and her daughter-in-law away, Laxmamma went to the kitchen and picked up the Kerosene and and set herself on fire in front of the house. By the time the neighbours heard her screams and came out, she was already dead and her body was charred," says a Sub-Inspector of the Jadcherla police station, who is handling the case.

Laxmamma is not the only such case. At least nine people have died in the district in the past four days after their bodies succumbed to withdrawal symptoms from the lack of adulterated toddy.

The Mahbubnagar Government Hospital (MGH) at the district headquarters is flooded with a continuous stream of patients, and people waiting to check in.

Many of these patients are exhibiting psychotic behaviour and screams like that of mental asylums echo on through the night.

Where did it start?

Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on September 6, approved the new excise policy for the state at a meeting with officials, which will be implemented from October 1.

While there were no major changes in the policy except a ten percent licence fee hike, the government took a decision to crack down on illicit and adulterated liquor. 

This was followed by a stern warning by excise officials and local toddy shop owners in the area had immediately stopped adulteration.

For a week, all looked good, as villagers switched to the pure version of the 'palm wine' and things went on undisturbed.

On September 13, exactly one week later, the withdrawal symptoms started to kick in.

While around 20 cases were reported from around the district on Saturday, around 50 people landed up at the MGH on Sunday alone. The hospital administration immediately stepped up preventive measures for more patients, and the queue has not stopped lining up since.

What’s happening right now?

At least 25 people are reported to have died so far, and around 330 hospitalized. On Sunday alone, seven died while undergoing treatment. 

"Toddy in itself is not that addictive a drink. Its 'high' or 'kick' is very mild and only lasts for a little while. The problem was that for many years, chemicals like diazepam and alprazolam are usually mixed in the toddy to increase its intoxication level," says Dr Narasimhulu, the nodal officer for the Gandhi government hospital in Hyderabad, who is currently in Mahbubnagar on an inspection.

The withdrawal symptoms of the two chemicals often result in the patient losing his mind and in extreme cases, collapsing into a coma.

"These chemicals are present in anti-depressants and other drugs also, but in quantities as small as 0.25 mg. In the toddy, they're mixing at least 20 to 25 times as much. So, it drives them insane when the body is denied the drug," Narasimhulu adds.

The Telangana government is planning to set up detox centres across the state, to try and bring the situation under control.

It takes around 10 to 15 days to detoxify a patient depending on a number of factors and patients are kept on a strictly monitored diet coupled with medication.

The government has also sought an NGO's help to put together a support system for its hospitals in the districts, as the excise department officials continued their crackdown on the illicit liquor

Resupply of illicit liqour?

The Nizamabad district in the state has also seen hundreds hospitalized due to withdrawal symptoms. 

As a result, toddy suppliers have started supplying limited quantities of toddy laced with diazepam and alprazolam to the addicts, under pressure from the families of patients, a report in the Times of India adds.

The report adds that local politicians, worried over the fallout, are also encouraging contractors to once again mix chemicals in the liquor.

"We are ready to stop drinking such toddy, but we wish the government either gives us an alternative or forces the suppliers to reduce the drugs slowly so that people do not die," a resident who bought illicit liquor told the newspaper.