IAS Sriram drunk driving case: Can blood alcohol reading be 'altered' using meds?

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IAS Sriram drunk driving case: Can blood alcohol reading be 'altered' using meds?

Speculation that has been doing the rounds about the Sriram Venkitaraman accident case in Thiruvananthapuram is how the IAS officer took medication to remove traces of alcohol in his blood, and how the delayed blood test has hence proved negative.

It was around 1am on Saturday when the car in which Sriram and a woman were in hit a parked bike in front of the Museum and killed a journalist. KM Basheer died before reaching the hospital. Different versions of the story have emerged as to who was driving the car and how it was a case of drunken driving.

Sriram who refused to take the blood test immediately had gone to the KIMS private hospital on his own accord and got admitted there for treating his injuries. It is there that some speculate Sriram, who has completed his medical studies before becoming a civil servant, took medication to remove traces of alcohol content so that a delayed blood test will help prove him innocent. It took nine hours from the time of the accident – 1 am on August 3 – to finally do the blood test on Sriram.

“Even without medicine, alcohol content can be eliminated in nine hours,” says Dr Sampath Kumar, forensic expert. “You can take plenty of water or a medication that will produce urine, through which all the toxins will be washed away. Like diuretics, which are medications used to increase the amount of water and salt expelled from the body as urine. This will cause you to be dehydrated and make you take plenty of water, like what happens during dialysis.”

However, gastroenterologist Dr Surendran says diuretics will not affect the blood alcohol level, it has to do with the metabolism of the person. “If someone has a high metabolism, then the liver will quickly break down the alcohol, however if their metabolism isn't that high, then it's possible that the alcohol may stay in the blood up to 24 hours, in theory. In practice, it usually stays in the blood for 12 hours or so,” he says.

In both cases, a delayed blood test can help the accused. A general physician from Chennai also agrees that the blood alcohol level will go down on its own within a span of a few hours. “There is no specific medication per say which will cause the blood alcohol level to go down. But if there are medications that the person is taking, it makes the liver enzymes work faster. This is just theory, for argument, in case such a medication exists. In practice, however, it is not seen.”

On average it takes about one hour for your body to break down one unit of alcohol, according to the UK National Health Service. One unit of alcohol is equivalent to 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. Late consultant physician Alex Paton, in his paper ‘Alcohol in the Body’, wrote that more than 90% of alcohol is metabolised by liver and only 2-5% of it is excreted in urine, sweat, or breath. On an empty stomach, blood alcohol concentration peaks about one hour after drinking.

Lawyer Manu Sebastian cannot recall a similar case where an accused has used medication to remove alcohol traces after drunken driving. “But in this case, evidences other than a blood test can be used to prove drunken driving. It is only in the Motor Vehicles Act that it says a blood test is a statutory condition for punishment in drunken driving. But here IPC 304 is charged. So other evidences – for example, a bill that shows how many drinks the accused ordered before the ride – can be used. Testimonies can also be used,” Manu argues.