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Dozens Are Dying In Russia After Drinking An Alcohol Substitute

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People in the city of Irkutsk in Siberia are dying by the dozen after consuming a cheap alcohol substitute this past weekend. The incident serves as a reminded that Russians are still besieged by many problems in their country, even while President Vladimir Putin appears to be dominating the war in Syria and rising to center stage.

The Russian economy, which suffered a recession in 2015 after oil prices collapsed, is only now beginning to emerge from the effects, the New York Times reports. But the Kremlin continues to fight domestic problems aside from a struggling economy, such as corruption, inequality and poor living standards.

In Irkutsk, the number of dead was 49 as of Monday, bringing to mind memories of a time in Russian history when alcohol was limited and people took to drinking substitutes. In the mid-1980s, Russians drank window cleaners, antifreeze and after-shave, among other liquids, as alcohol was banned.

Now, the same dire situation is repeating itself, because people can no longer afford even the cheapest vodka.

This holds true particularly for the districts on the outskirts of thriving cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Irkutsk, also called the gateway to Lake Baikal, is a city of 620,000 that has seen better days. Once a prosperous industrial center, its heavy machinery markets fell apart when the Soviet Union unraveled.

The victims drank bath lotion that contained methanol, an inexpensive substitute for ethanol in standard liquor. The methanol was sold in local shops for a dollar a bottle; a half-liter bottle of vodka costs around three dollars.

Methanol is highly toxic, and is an ingredient in antifreeze. The bottles were marked not fit for human consumption, but that did not deter customers who buy it regularly, according to local reports. Local law enforcement detained suspects distributing the liquid and found a workshop where the methanol was reportedly being produced. Some 2,000 bottles were seized from stores.

Alcoholism is a big problem in Russia, where alcohol abuse remains a leading cause of death. Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev has urged the government to control the distribution of liquids that contain alcohol, like perfume. “This is a complete disgrace and clearly we should put an end to it,” he said. “Such liquids should simply be banned.”

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