Indonesia’s fight against illegal alcohol has snowballed into one of the country’s biggest crisis to date, as nearly 80 people have died from drinking tainted bootleg alcohol.
In 2015, the country banned tens of thousands of mini-marts and other stores from selling alcohol. On top of that, authorities decided to put high taxes on alcohol, prompting illegal sellers to launch a thriving black market. Because the poor are the ones who often can’t afford to buy booze legally, they are the first to suffer the consequences.
On Tuesday, authorities told reporters that 45 people have died in three different locations in West Java, while 31 others have died earlier in April in Jakarta and other nearby cities. The culprit is a mix of bootleg liquor, cough medicine, and insect repellent that has turned out to be toxic.
In an interview with Indonesian TV, Yani Sumpena, the head of the state-run hospital in Cicalengka, said that “[s]ince April 6, there are 93 patients in our hospital while our capacity is very limited, only 19 beds.”
If more people arrive with alcohol poisoning, they unfortunately have to “refer to the surrounding hospitals."
Because methanol can be a byproduct of bootleg distilling behind these illegal alcoholic beverages, authorities said that consumption can be lethal. On top of that, the alcohol is often tainted.
Even as drinking alcohol remains legal, recent laws targeting the product's sale have created a climate of prohibition that is forcing poor consumers to go after the product in the black market. As a result, the rates of deaths tied to alcohol consumption are increasing.
So far, seven individuals who have been suspected of having mixed bootleg liquor with dangerous ingredients have been arrested in West Java, but authorities are still investigating to learn whether this crisis is tied to a single provider.
"We have not yet found any link among them," West Java police spokesman Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiko said. "Based on their confessions, they worked independently, each mixing the drinks in their own way, such as using cough remedies, ointments, and mosquito repellent."
Four other suspects were also arrested in Jakarta.
What history in the United States has shown us is that the tougher the laws against alcohol sale and consumption, the more people are driven to the black market to fulfill their desires. As a result, individuals who often cannot afford more expensive products coming from legal sources end up suffering the health consequences of drinking harsh or tainted alcohol.
If Indonesian authorities really want to fight alcohol consumption, they might want to look at another way. Forcing the poor to buy from the black market is not working.
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