Nearly 80 people in Indonesia are dead and 90 others have been hospitalized this month after drinking toxic bootleg liquor containing ingredients such as cough medicine and insect repellent, officials said.
Authorities said Tuesday that 45 people have died in three locations in the province of West Java, while another 31 people died earlier this month in the capital, Jakarta, and satellite cities.
The head of the state-run hospital in Cicalengka, Yani Sumpena, said doctors were overwhelmed with the influx of patients suffering from alcohol poisoning.
"Since April 6, there are 93 patients in our hospital while our capacity is very limited, only 19 beds," Sumpena told Indonesian TV. "So the rest we refer to the surrounding hospitals."
While drinking alcohol is discouraged, it is not illegal. Indonesia banned the sale of alcohol from tens of thousands of mini-marts and other small stores in 2015, however, high taxes on alcohol have spawned a black market for booze among the poor in the world’s most-populous Muslim nation.
Authorities said potentially lethal methanol can be a byproduct of bootleg distilling and the tainted alcohol is also sometimes mixed with soft drinks. In the recent spate of deaths, police said pure alcohol was sometimes combined with ingredients such as cough medicine and insect repellent.
“All the patients come with shortness of breath, diminished consciousness and many whose vision is blurred,” Amelia, a doctor at the state-run hospital in Cicalengka, told Indonesian TV.
Deaths from toxic alcohol are common in Indonesia but the latest cluster of fatalities, coming in a little more than a week, is dramatic, leading to speculation a single large distributor was responsible.
West Java police spokesman Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiko said they have not found evidence to support the theory.
He said seven people suspected of mixing or selling the bootleg liquor have been arrested, while another person remains at large.
"We have not yet found any link among them," 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."
In the Jakarta area, police have arrested at least four suspects.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.