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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alcoholics Convinced Cure Can Kill

Nothing used to prevent Nikolai from drinking. Now, the hardened alcoholic would not take a sip of wine if his life depended on it - as he believes it does.

On Friday, Nikolai had a "torpedo" injected into his bloodstream, a drug which, he is convinced, will kill him if he drinks any sort of alcoholic beverage. The injection is administered to desperate alcoholics, for whom fear of death becomes the only deterrent from reaching for the bottle.

According to a doctor treating alcoholics, state-run clinics in Moscow "sew-up" 4, 000 to 5, 000 patients every year. Drugs, in the form of an injection or pills are surgically sewn under the skin and cause an allergic reaction if alcohol is consumed.

From five months to a year the drug remains in the blood. It stays neutral until activated by alcohol. If that happens, doctors say, the allergic reaction caused can be fatal.

"No one has died yet, but we do not guarantee anything", said Alexander Sergeyev, deputy chief of Moscow's

main narcological hospital No. 17. "If a patient dies, then it is because of alcohol misuse, of course, not the drugs we give them. If Esperal is used improperly, than death could result".

Esperal, a French medication, and the "torpedo" are both widely administered in Russia. The torpedo is a liquid that is injected intravenously and produces molecular complexes when it comes in contact with alcohol. This brings about an allergy-like reaction which causes headaches, bumps, diarrhea, fever, inadequate breathing, and an increased heartbeat.

The patients who are administered one of the drugs have to sign a document testifying that they are aware of the fatal consequences the treatment may have.

For patients at the clinic at hospital No. 17, there was controversy over the rights and wrongs of the method, but everyone agreed that one might die with a torpedo in the body.

"I don't drink anymore, because I know it will kill me", said Nikolai, seated on a bed at the clinic. The lanky 42-year-old engineer, who asked not to be further identified, explained that a

near-death experience had convinced him that a torpedo is no laughing matter.

At a different hospital, four years ago, Nikolai had been given an injection by a doctor which made him "die". "I could hardly breathe anymore and I got incredibly hot", he said, turning red just thinking about it. At the time, the doctor resuscitated him and told him that next time he drank

the same would happen to him, only then there would be no one to bring him back to life.

"It worked", said Nikolai, proudly pointing to his mouth. "For the past four years, not one drop has passed these lips", he said.


"Well, it's not completely true", he added with the smile of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He admitted that he did sneak a drink in the periods when he was waiting for a new torpedo.

Sergei Golovin, a psychiatrist at hospital No. 17, does not approve of the drug. "It is bad to stimulate fear, and I discourage the use of medication to treat alcoholism, but it is up to the patient to decide how to deal with alcoholism. We only give torpedoes or Esperal to healthy people. If a patient has a bad heart, we would not think of it".

There is no shortage of statistics on Russia's alcohol problem. According to Sergeyev's official reports, 14 of every 1, 000 people in Russia are serious alcoholics. He expects the actual number of cases to be much higher, however, since many are never reported.

Experts attending a conference on alcoholism in Moscow this week estimated that two-thirds of all Russian factory workers are alcoholics. .

And a recent government study published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta calculated that 3. 5 percent of all Russians suffer from delirium tremens - restlessness due to excessive use of alcohol, characterized by trembling.

Sergeyev said that over the past 10 years his clinic had treated 200, 000 alcoholics. Every fourth patient received a torpedo. Their treatment was free, while in private clinics the fee is usually 3, 000 rubles.

Vladimir S. , who considers himself to be an alcoholic, although he has not drunk in three years, called torpedoes and Esperal "barbaric".

"The drinker simply fools himself, it's crazy", said Vladimir, who believes the Alcoholic Anonymous program, brought to the clinic by American psychiatrists last year, is the only sensible way to treat the disease.