Revealed: Isiolo illicit brew makers use mortuary chemical, ARVs

Chiefs and assistant chiefs during past illicit brew crackdown in Bulapesa, Isiolo.

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu | Nation Media Group

Isiolo residents were shocked on Thursday when it was revealed that illicit liquor sold at local kiosks was laced with antiretroviral drugs, formalin and painkillers.

The discovery was made by national government administrators led by Isiolo Deputy County Commissioner Kepha Marube during a five-hour raid across several dens in Bulapesa ward.

The officers, who pounced on two people drinking at a pub, recovered cans of ARVs, high blood pressure drugs and painkillers at “God’s Power” club, where 3,000 litres of illicit brew was destroyed.

Different from the commonly used methanol, lead acid and dry cells, the brewers lace the liquor with formalin used in preserving bodies in mortuaries and the other drugs to speed up fermentation and in turn enable them to make quick cash.

Bulapesa village elder Elgoi Wario, who has been at the forefront in fighting illegal brews, said they had not witnessed such an incident before.

“We are shocked because we have only been witnessing cases of brewers putting strange objects such as dead rats and women's inner garments in the liquor besides other hard drugs such as cocaine,” Mr Wario said.

During the destruction of the liquor, Mr Marube warned residents against consuming unregulated drinks, describing them as unsafe due to the presence of toxic substances.

“All these drugs are added to the liquor and once one consumes it, it harms their health,” he said as he displayed the ARVs, paracetamol and HBP drugs.

Saying that several people had been admitted to hospital after consuming the brew, the administrator lamented that many youths had been reduced to zombies, making them unproductive.

The security team has in the past three weeks destroyed 10,500 litres of illicit brew, including kangara, ndume and chang’aa.

Despite knowing that it is produced in an unhygienic environment, patrons prefer illicit brews over other alcoholic drinks because they are cheaper.

The availability of cheap unregulated liquor has been blamed for the rising number of intoxicated young men and women who loiter in Isiolo town.

Can cause liver and kidney complications

The revelations come a month after five people died in the Jawatho area of Njoro, Nakuru County, after taking poisoned liquor. Those deaths came five months after five people in Hodihodi village in Bahati in the same county.

Dr Hussein Mohammud said formalin is highly toxic and should not be consumed at all as it contains carcinogenic compounds.

Consumption of high amounts, Dr Mohammud said, could result in death.

The medic, who is the Isiolo County Referral Hospital medical superintendent, noted that if consumed by someone who is not infected with HIV and Aids, ARVs can cause liver and kidney complications.

“The ARV drugs should only be consumed by those with the condition and prolonged use can cause liver and kidney diseases,” Dr Mohammud told Nation.Africa.

A majority of those who take the liquor reported exhibiting loss of vision, appetite and memory.

“I was told taking the liquor helps one spend less because it causes loss of appetite,” said an addict in rehabilitation who was rendered impotent by the liquor.

Mr Marube, the deputy county commissioner, warned of sustained operations to weed out the brewers, saying the government was committed to eradicating the illegal businesses.

He appealed to the public to volunteer information on illegal liquor producers.

“The brewers should be warned that their days are numbered and we will soon catch up with them and severely deal with them,” Mr Marube said.

The administrator announced a fresh crackdown on counterfeit wines and spirits premises in the region starting this week and revealed that four people arrested during past raids had been charged.

No one was arrested during the latest raids, with authorities saying that workers fled when they saw the team approaching the area.

While a recent crackdown had seen thousands of litres of illicit liquor destroyed and some suspects arrested, there have been claims that some chiefs were colluding with brewers and protecting them, with others in the business saying the raids were biased.

“We have heard people talk of untouchables but I want to assure our people that we will go after everyone in the business alongside the fight to eradicate bhang,” Mr Marube maintained.