Thursday, 22 September 2011

Remember that alcohol is a drug too! A CSSDPers perspective on travel to a "dry state"

by Priya Shah

I am about to embark on a journey to India... the place of my ancestors. I am of Indian descent but was born in Canada so I’ve always felt a bit removed from my culture. Doing research and trip-planning has led to some interesting discoveries. I am beginning my trip in Gujarat, suitably because it is where my grandparents are from. But it is also... a dry state! Because I’ll be spending 1-2 months there it’s important for me to get an idea of the current state of affairs; the laws, politics etc. So I’ve been reading up on what a ‘dry’ state means for Gujarat right now, and this is what I’ve learned:

Basically, prohibition in Gujarat has been in effect since 1960 when the state was formed (more than a decade after Independence) and it has created an illicit liquor trade; an industry that generates revenue and employment for thousands of people. The law was mainly put in place as a tribute to Mahatma Ghandi, who hails from Gujarat.

The high demand fuels the smuggling and production. The police and other officials are involved in the trade, which generates the most money around elections because the politicians turn to bootleggers* and form power alliances when they need money to boost their campaigns. This highlights perfectly the degree of corruption among police and government officials in Gujarat. The party members and the electorate drink alcohol discretely, just the same as the majority of working and lower class people, but the outcome of drinking illicit liquor is more fatal for them. This is because the former have access to IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) which is popular and more attainable among the middle and upper class, and the latter are familiar with cheaper types of liquor - responsible for the majority of deaths.

There are a few exceptions to alcohol prohibition in Gujarat, which include:

  • personnel of the armed forces are permitted to buy alcohol 
  • retired personnel are allowed to buy a specific quota per month:
  • "anyone over 40 in Gujarat can apply for a liquor permit on “health grounds”, securing a monthly ration of one bottle of hard liquor or 10 bottles of beer” (Basant Rawat, The Telegraph) 
  • liquor can be purchased for medical reasons, if prescribed by a doctor 
  • foreigners are allowed to acquire a permit and drink liquor 
  • “to encourage corporate houses to hold business conferences in Gujarat instead of going over to nearby Mount Abu (Rajasthan) or Diu, the government allowed group permits so that delegates could drink liquor at hotels” (Rawat) 
However, liquor permits in Gujarat are expensive, and whether the officials like it or not, people prefer to buy from bootleggers! For example, a bottle of whisky costs Rs 1,000 in permit shops, which are located in select hotels. But a bootlegger sells the same brand for Rs 750 (Rawat). This leads to events such as the hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in July 2009 where over 109 people died. Vinay Dholakia, director of the award-winning Parzania (2005) is making a film that addresses the issue of prohibition in Gujarat. The film covers all related issues from revenues to religion, the politics of prohibition to communalism and the mafia involved. (

In any case, I’ve still got lots to learn and discover by seeing first-hand how people are suffering and dealing with alcohol prohibition in Gujarat. I’ll keep you posted!

*It is believed that the biggest gangsters in Gujarat started their careers as bootleggers, as opposed to gangsters in Mumbai who started with kidnapping and theft.

Here’s more information if you’re interested:

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Overdose awareness- our demands

August 31st was overdose awareness day. An event was held on the human rights monument in Ottawa, ON. There were speakers, an exchange of information and a call for action.

here is what I (Alex Rowan) had to say.

Now that we have addressed the issue of overdose in the city of Ottawa, I want to discuss what needs to happen to deal with this devastating trend.

         First, I want to tell you about a medication called naloxone. It is an opioid antagonist which blocks the opioid receptors and quickly reverses life threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. It is essentially an opiate antidote.  It lasts for about 30-90 minutes, giving the individual time to access emergency medical services. It is a safe medication and will not cause harm if administered to someone who isn’t overdosing. This medication is often used by emergency medical professionals. However, some areas run peer based naloxone distribution and training programs, which have resulted in very positive outcomes and have saved many lives.

Ottawa needs this.

These programs train users how to identify and respond to opiate overdose, including when and how to administer naloxone. This gives people the opportunity to literally save the lives of their peers. Unfortunately, we do not have a way for people to access this drug and learn how to use it. That needs to change.

Our next demand is accurate reporting of overdose related deaths. It is incredibly difficult to find information regarding the number and frequency of overdose deaths. Often the cause of death will not be labeled as an overdose, but instead as a “heart attack” or something else. Though that may look better on an obituary, it makes finding information that much more difficult. It is also harder to develop public health education on overdose prevention and to advocate for programs such as naloxone distribution without this information. This also needs to change.

Our final demand is far more broad, but still crucial. We need to view overdose as a human rights issue. That’s why we chose to hold this event here. People who use drugs deserve better than they’re getting. We need better access to appropriate, evidence based treatment. This includes harm reduction programs like methadone maintenance and safe consumption rooms. We need to improve access to health care services, especially for street involved drug users. We need affordable housing. We need to stop criminalizing people for drug use, as it only makes the problem worse.

I know that’s a lot to ask for, and it will take a lot of work to get to that place. However, our demands for naloxone distribution programs and accurate reporting of OD deaths are a great place to start. These suggestions will both reduce the number of overdose related deaths and give us more accurate information so that we can move forward. We will strive for a community that respects everyone’s right to life and the highest level of health possible. We need to realize that people who overdose are worth keeping alive.  If you only take one thing from this event, I hope that’s it.