PESHAWAR: Consumption of adulterated methylated spirit can cause death and cancer when applied for cleaning of wounds as disinfectant, according to experts.
The latest deaths of five Christians from the spirit on Jan 5 spotlighted the issue because more people died in one go. There are isolated incidents in which people die of similar causes, but they go unreported.
The experts said that the methylated spirit being sold openly in the market contained toxic elements known to kill consumers and cause cancer when used as disinfectant for cleaning and dressing of wounds.
Methylated spirit contained 80 per cent alcohol, 10 per cent ethyl, pyridine and aldehyde, which makes it poisonous. Poor people, mostly Christians, drink it due to its lower prices.
Say sale of spirits without prescription should be banned
Local manufacturers add aldehyde, a carcinogenic agent, to make it more poisonous and discourage its oral use as intoxicant. Also called ethyl alcohol, the methylated spirit was being used as recreation, for fuel in lamps, stoves, etc. It is cheaper than other drinkable products with different concentration of alcohol manufactured with specified concentrations.
According to the experts, vodka contained 40 per cent water and 60 per cent alcohol; and Rum, 40 per cent alcohol and 60 per cent water. Champagne is 15-20 per cent alcohol with water and beer is composed of 4-6 per cent alcohol and water.
The methylated spirit is highly soluble and it permeates into stomach and veins within no time. There’s no tax on methylated spirit, while ethyl alcohol is a taxed item. Its manufacturers add water and congeners to make it sweat and colour with a view to scale up its consumption.
Doctors at the local teaching hospitals said that they received at least two people having taken overdose of drink every day, but they recovered after washing of their stomachs. They said that the locally-made methylated spirit was highly absorbable and the people consuming it could die.
A casualty medical officer said that one of the Christians who survived in the Peshawar incident was due of the fact that he had vomited because of other reasons. He said that there were isolated deaths from methylated spirit which couldn’t be reported, but the death of five people at the same time was alarming.
Other doctors said that spirit was an over-the-counter drug available at Rs100 per liter, which was far cheaper than the drinkable alcohol for the low-income people.
They said that there had been known cases where people had got cancer after use of methylated spirit available in the local market.
They said that there should be a complete ban on the sale of methylated spirit without prescription. Relevant officials said that reports about sale of spirit in the medical stores had been sent to the health department in the past, but the illegal business was continuing unchecked.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2017