Indonesian police have vowed to crackdown on the distribution of bootleg alcohol, as deaths this month connected to the consumption of illegally produced toxic liquor exceeded 86.
The majority of the deaths were in the province of West Java, but have also been reported in the capital Jakarta, and South Kalimantan, said national police spokesman Inspector General Setyo Wasisto.
Police have promised to stamp out the scourge before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan beginning mid-May, with a new task force being created to handle the assignment.
Seven people have been arrested so far in connection with the deaths, four in Jakarta and three in West Java province, said Argo Yuwono, a spokesman for South Jakarta police.
In response to the recent spate of poisonings, police have rounded-up sellers of bootleg alcohol in affected areas, and sent samples of seized liquor to the country’s Drug and Food Control Agency for forensic evaluation, according to the state-run Antara news agency.
“We have taken the blood and urine samples along with that of the drink. They have been dispatched to the forensics laboratory, and we will get the results in three or four days,” West Java Regional Police said at a Tuesday press conference.
Preliminary investigations suggested sellers were adding cough medicine and anti-mosquito lotion to the alcohol.
Indonesia has long grappled with the problem of fake or bootleg alcohol. According to official statistics, 300 people died from the consumption of unlicensed liquor between 2008 and 2013. Between 2014 and 2018, the figure was 500.
Despite alcohol being legal in Indonesia, home-brew remains popular, especially in rural areas, where varieties such as “oplosan” are widely sold in clear plastic bags on street corners.
The Jakarta Post reports the seized alcohol was found to contain substances such as energy drinks, syrup or carbonated drinks.
West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan said he was concerned by the growing death toll, and urged police to “pay full attention to this case,” according to Antara.
According to SafeProof, a group which lobbies against counterfeit alcohol, illegal liquor can be deadly “when other liquids like rubbing alcohol or methanol are added to the distilled spirit,” enabling sellers to increase the amount of liquid and its potential potency.
Methanol can make people feel inebriated, but even a very small amount can be toxic. Methanol poisoning can cause confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and the inability to coordinate muscle movements. It can prompt nausea, vomiting and heart or breathing failures, according to the US Center for Disease Control.
“The byproducts of methanol metabolism cause an accumulation of acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis), blindness, and death,” a CDC report said.