The Bihar hooch tragedy has a killer ingredient: officials here say it’s Thuja, a homeopathic medicine with high alcohol content. The Gopalgunj district administration and excise department officials conducted a raid of all shops stocking homeopathic medicines in the town and seized stocks of Thuja and other medicines that have a high content of alcohol on Friday.
Empty bottles of Thuja were recovered from the Khajurbani locality of Gopalgunj town, where 16 people died after consuming spurious liquor. Some lost their vision. Thuja Occidentalis is a genus of coniferous trees in the Cupressaceae family.
“As many as 25 empty 450 ml bottles of Thuja with 91% alcohol content were recovered from a place in the Khajurbani locality on Thursday…mixing any intoxicant with Thuja to prepare a brew can be fatal,” Rahul Kumar, Gopalgunj’s District Magistrate told The Hindu. “We’ve asked shopkeepers to provide details of all medicines that contain alcohol by Saturday evening.”
Circumstantial evidence pointed to Thuja being used to brew country-made liquor at some of the kilns to add more ‘high’ to the illicit brew. “Thuja has come out as a killer ingredient in the Gopalgunj hooch tragedy and we’re making raids to seize the medicine to avoid its deadly misuse further,” Mr. Kumar added.
Besides empty bottles of Thuja, the police also recovered 300 litres of illicit liquor kept in big plastic jars of different sizes in pits at Khajurbani.
Mr. Kumar added that all 15 homeopathic pharmacies in Gopalgunj were raided on Friday but, “30ml bottles of Thuja, which is permissible, were found in these shops.” A senior police official of the district said that the empty bottles of Thuja seized at Khajurbani on Thursday were of the larger size (450ml), which is not supplied to pharmacies these days.
Some makers of country-made liquor (called ‘desi daru’ in Bihar) told The Hindu that ingredients like urea, naushadar (a chemical) and alcoholic components like Thuja are used to create a more intoxicating brew by makers of hooch. “They [such ingredients] are easily and cheaply available. After prohibition was imposed, one glass of ‘desi daru’ mixed with these intoxicants is sold at Rs 40. Earlier, the rate was just Rs. 20,” one source said.
“All these ingredients, if taken beyond the body’s limit, cause nausea, vomiting, headache, severe stomach pain, loss of eye vision and even death,” Dr. Shatrughan Prasad, a homeopath told The Hindu.