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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Russia drink death toll soars
Russia homeless people sit on a bench drinking
There is a 'growing passion' for alcohol in Russia
Nearly 17,000 people have died from alcohol poisoning in Russia in the first half of this year, an increase of about 30% on the same period last year.

Russian Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko, quoted by the news agency Interfax, said the figures reflected "the growing passion for alcohol", mainly among Russian men, and the low quality of the drinks consumed.

He said that he was not talking about alcoholics, but "simply about people who drink".

The report did not specify how many deaths were due to over-drinking and how many to contaminated drinks.

Lethal impurities

According to the report, the number of alcohol poisoning deaths from January to May was 16,853, about 4,000 more than in the same period last year.

Although alcohol prices in Russia are low - in Moscow a two-litre bottle of premixed gin-and-tonic costs $1.7 - many drinkers resort to home-distilled vodka and other spirits that can contain lethal impurities.

Mr Onishchenko added that there were two million registered alcoholics in Russia, among them 56,000 children below the age of 14.

The average adult male in Russia drinks an average of 14 litres of pure alcohol a year, he said.

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Europe
Don't drink and dive in Moscow
27 Mar 01 | Europe
Russia declares war on beer
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