34 killed in Russia from drinking adulterated alcohol

Autoridades policiales rusas en una nave clandestina donde se encontraron bidones de alcohol contaminado en la ciudad de Orsk.
Russian police authorities on a ship clandestine where drums of contaminated alcohol were found in the city of Orsk. Investigative Committee (TASS)

The death of 34 people for drinking adulterated alcohol in Russia, in the Orenburg region – to the south – has put the country’s health authorities on alert. The bottles of vodka and cognac bought by dozens of people, some under the label of well-known brands, were nothing more than a preparation that contained methanol, a toxic substance. Twenty-four people also remain hospitalized and regional authorities are trying to locate more victims of a deadly fraud that has brought the problem of cheap alcohol smuggled back to the table in Russia, where 21 millions of people live below the poverty line. There are nine detainees suspected of making the liquors from an industrial alcohol used for anticorrosive compounds and selling it to local stores in the region.

The alarm signal came on October 7, when the first intoxicated began to arrive at health centers. A day later, the death toll rose to 18. The police managed to arrest the culprits and confiscate a batch of counterfeit alcohol. However, it is still unknown how many bottles have been sold, admits the Interior Ministry in a statement. “We have tests that show the presence of pure methanol. In some cases it was found that its concentration multiplied three or five times what would be a lethal dose “, explained the Minister of Health of the region Tatiana Savinova.

It is not the first time that a similar tragedy has happened in Orsk in recent months. In August, during the celebration of the birth of a child, three members of the same family died from consuming manipulated alcohol that they had bought at an official point of sale.

The fight against alcoholism has been one of the objectives of the Government of Vladimir Putin since he came to power. Russia was the country in Europe where consumption decreased the most between 2010 and 2016: from 15, 8 liters per year per capita at 11, 7. Even so, the country remains above the European average (9.8 liters), according to April data from the World Health Organization.

The last measure of the Government has been to recover by law the controversial “cell buses” that remove alcoholics from the streets and that were dismantled a decade ago, to leave the assistance to these in the hands of the medical services persons. The new law also contemplates the imposition of fines on drunk people, and was justified by the increase in crimes and deaths due to low temperatures. In 2009, in addition, to prevent smuggling fraud, a minimum price was introduced for the sale of spirits, with the exception of wine. The minimum price for a half-liter bottle of vodka is 243 rubles (almost three euros); 5.6% more than last year.

The rise in the price of alcohol, experts believe, may be without However, a double-edged sword in the face of the scourge of manipulated drinks, especially with the economic crisis. Inflation has reached a five-year record high and the shopping basket has become 7.4% more expensive compared to September 2020, according to the Russian statistics agency Rosstat, and this encourages the consumption of methyl alcohol in the poorest areas of Russia. The most unprotected layers of the population sometimes turn to cheap substitutes, such as bath lotions or industrial products. A year ago, in the middle of the pandemic, at least nine people died in a town in the Siberian region of Yakutia after drinking disinfectant gel.

Deaths from adulterated alcohol are a major and yet recurring problem in Russia. In 2016, at least 76 people died and a hundred were poisoned by drinking bath gels fraudulently labeled as liqueurs in the Irkutsk region. And although the legislation contemplates up to 10 years in prison for the production or sale of adulterated alcohol if they die more Out of two people, the Irkutsk merchants who failed to comply with the sanitation requirements in that tragedy received sentences of between two and four years in prison.

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