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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Embassy Warns of Spiked Drinks

Keep an eye on your drink -- Mickey Finns have returned to Moscow.

The U.S. Embassy is warning American citizens of an increase in the number of foreign nationals who have been drugged and robbed after their drinks were spiked in local bars and restaurants.

In a warden message sent out Monday, the embassy said that an unspecified number of foreigners were robbed over the past few months after the drug clonidine was slipped into their drinks at bars or by guests they had brought home.

The message urged U.S. citizens to "consider ordering bottled drinks rather than mixed drinks" and to "avoid leaving drinks unattended."

Embassy spokespeople declined to elaborate on the warning.

Typically, perpetrators slip the drug into bar patrons' drinks and rob them after they fall unconscious. According to anecdotal evidence, many of the spikers are prostitutes or women who pretend to show a sudden interest in a man, then go home with the intended victim and rob him.

The American Medical Center has noticed a recent increase in the incidence of clonidine poisoning, up to one or two cases a month from a previous average of one every six months, according to Alexander Alexeyev, a general practitioner at the center.

Clonidine, a prescription drug in Russia, is usually used to decrease blood pressure. For those poisoned, it can cause fatigue, disorientation and long periods of unconsciousness with after-effects often lasting for a number of days.

Most of the victims treated at the American Medical Center are short-term visitors to Moscow, usually middle-aged men, and most spiking incidents occur at bars and restaurants, Alexeyev said.

The new spikers are more professional, he added. Instead of dropping clonidine pills into drinks, they administer a small dose of the drug using a liquid form, which is colorless and tasteless.

"They know the dose will not kill a person but is enough to make him unconscious for half an hour or an hour," Alexeyev said. "In the 1990s, there were much more severe cases."

The incidence rate cited by Alexeyev is similar to figures reported in the heyday of the Moscow Mickey Finn in the mid-1990s, when more than 200 cases a year were treated at the Sklifosovsky Institute's toxicology clinic. At the time, there were even cases of spiked tea and coffee in cafes and restaurants.

Marty Bainbridge, a co-founder of Doug and Marty's Boarhouse, a popular expat haunt, seemed surprised by the figures.

Clonidine spiking "does happen occasionally in bars in Moscow," but much less frequently than in 1995-96, Bainbridge said.

He acknowledged that Doug and Marty's was not immune to the problem but said the bar tried to minimize the risk with undercover security personnel and cameras.