Vice Squad
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Illicit Alcohol Deaths

India's recent troubles have been augmented in the past few days, alas, by poisonous bootleg alcohol. In the Bombay region, 65 people have died and many others have been sickened after consuming illicit liquor that contained a high concentration of methyl alcohol. (The potable version is ethyl alcohol, or ethanol.) The victims are poor people who apparently frequented low-priced, underground liquor sellers.

Tainted drugs are usually associated with prohibitions, but high taxes or any controls that engender a large gap in price or availability between above and below-ground varieties also can lead to risky (and even deadly) adulterations. In the Bombay case, the underground market appears to have been well-established and tolerated. Authorities have now transferred some police and tax officials for looking the other way.

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