Opinion | Alcoholics are patients, not criminals

Column | Alcoholics are patients, not criminals
The alcohol in beverages acts much like an anesthetic, said Scott Hansen, an associate professor at TSRI, a research institute in the US.

Editor's note: A debate on whether alcohol should be made available to people showing withdrawal symptoms has been raging in Kerala in the wake of the 21-day lockdown. This appears to have deeply divided the state. Onmanorama presents views from both sides to provide a clear picture about the issue. Here, Dr M R Rajagopal argues strongly for the booze supply. Click here to read Dr K A Kumar's arguments against alcohol supply.

About 1.25 crore people in Kerala are estimated to be alcohol drinkers. Of them, about 6 lakh can be classified as addicts. It is not easy to wean an alcoholic away from a drink. Persons showing withdrawal symptoms are viewed as criminals. They can expect very little support from family and society.

They might panic when alcohol is not available. Shivering, vomiting and seizures can follow. Seizures can be fatal. In that panicked stage, they lose control of their minds. They are capable of doing anything for a drop of booze. They might turn violent against those who prevent them from drinking. Their family members have an equally miserable time. An alcoholic’s wife and children feel threatened on the days of withdrawal.

Another aspect is the increase in moonshine production when alcohol becomes scarce.

It is not easy to treat alcohol addicts. You cannot treat a patient without his consent, according to the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. How do you obtain consent from people who have lost their discretionary faculty for want of alcohol? Many of them require long-term treatment in a facility as home-based care may not be effective. We have very few of such caregiving institutions. Maybe 0.1 percent of those in need of treatment can expect to get treated.

How are we supposed to address the troubles of 6 lakh people when our doctors are busy checking the spread of COVID-19. The basic duty of a health worker is to ward off misery. Treat an illness when they can. Provide succour when needed.

We have two options before us. We can ignore the hellish lives of 6 lakh families. Or we can supply alcohol as a medicine to registered patients. This is also an opportunity to create a register of alcoholics in the state. Once the coronavirus is contained, we can take up the issue and ensure proper treatment for them.

(The writer is the founder-chairman of Pallium India)

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