Bengaluru: The Kerala government may have allowed doctor prescriptions for alcohol as more people with withdrawal symptoms commit suicide, but doctors are opposed to the “unethical” step and say they are unlikely to hand out any.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government had shut down all liquor stores and bars after the nationwide lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Since then, nine suicide cases have been reported — seven were allegedly in depression, one died of a cardiac arrest and another had consumed aftershave lotion as a substitute for alcohol. The number of deaths in the state from the coronavirus is just one.
Police officials say that the cases of suicide are of individuals who were unable to deal with the withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism.
‘Alcohol not the treatment for alcoholism’
The Kerala chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has written to Chief Minister Vijayan stating that “making a doctor recommend alcohol to a person is not ethical” and urged the government to “reconsider its decision in this regard”.
“Alcohol withdrawal can be managed successfully using medications and we feel that asking doctors to recommend alcohol itself as the treatment of alcohol withdrawal would be sending a wrong message to the public. We worry that this would motivate many people to approach doctors to get ‘prescriptions’ for alcohol, leading to fraud and malpractice,” the IMA said in its letter.
Speaking to The Print, Dr Sulfi Nuhu, secretary of IMA, Kerala, said no medical practitioner supports the government’s theory. “We will not be prescribing alcohol in our prescriptions. Covid-19 is a problem, and our first priority,” he added.
However, Dr Nuhu said that though as a doctor he will not advise alcohol consumption, a complete ban on liquor could have other repercussions.
“We, the medical community have only asked for closure of bars. In bars, people spend hours together, they share food, glasses and after getting drunk, their physical contact of one other also increases. That is very harmful and (creates) a high probability of getting infections. We did not ask for a complete shutdown of alcohol in the state,” he explained.
If this ban continues, doctors fear people turn to other options like illicit liquor or drugs, which will pose a bigger issue.
On 27 March, three days after the lockdown, 37-year-old Sanoj committed suicide due to unavailability of liquor, according to the FIR. Sanoj’s family said that he had been extremely restless and had become suicidal.
On 28 March, two people from Kollam — Suresh Kumar and Biju Prabhakaran — killed themselves. Suresh worked as an electrician and was undergoing treatment for cancer. His relatives told Perumpuzha Police in their statement that he was an alcoholic and suffered withdrawal symptoms.
A day later, two suicide attempts were made in Malappuram district. A 35-year-old man was shifted to a de-addiction centre after his family said he was turning violent.
The Kerala government has maintained that those unable to deal with their withdrawal symptoms can go to the state-run de-addiction centres in districts.