Staunton, December 20 -- The death of more than 50 people in Irkutsk this week as a result of their drinking a bath solvent containing ethyl alcohol has focused attention on a much larger problem: one Russian in ten drinks such surrogates on a regular basis, and as many as 45,000 of them are dying as a result.
Russians in that Far Eastern city purchased this substance because it is slightly cheaper that vodka and other alcohol produced for human consumption. Moreover, it is 186 proof if measured by alcohol content tempting some even if the label warns against drinking it (meduza.io/cards/rossiyane-pyut-kontsentraty-dlya-vann-i-umirayut-kak-eto-voobsche-vozmozhno).
According to Russian government figures, ten percent of the Russian population consumes such surrogate drinks on a regular basis, and such drinks represent up to 20 percent of the hard liquor market (rbc.ru/investigation/business/24/11/2016/5836fabd9a7947f82e05d12b). Officials say 45,000 Russians died from surrogates in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available (rospotrebnadzor.ru/upload/iblock/486/gd_2015_ds.pdf)m and the death rate has been going up.
In response to the Irkutsk tragedy, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for pulling the specific product that caused the deaths from Russian shelves, and some Duma deputies have called for a new law to ban surrogates (meduza.io/news/2016/12/19/medvedev-potreboval-iz-yat-boyaryshnik-iz-prodazhi).
But given that Russians have demonstrated that they will drink anything that is liquid and contains alcohol of any kind and that so many necessary products fall into that category, it is unclear how any such ban would work in practice. Indeed, it could even make the situation worse by driving people to drink from even more underground and unsafe sources.