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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deaths Blamed on Hazardous Drinking

Drinking alcohol not meant for consumption, including antiseptics and medicines, accounts for nearly half of the deaths of working-age men in Russia, according to a new study.

British researchers found that hazardous drinking -- which includes the excessive consumption of regular alcohol as well as so-called "surrogate" alcohols -- caused 43 percent of deaths in the Urals city of Izhevsk, said the study, published Friday in The Lancet.

David Leon, a doctor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues studied 1,750 men aged 25 to 54 who died from 2003 to 2005 in Izhevsk. They compared those cases with 1,750 randomly selected living men in the same city.

The men who died were much more likely than those who lived to consume surrogate alcohols.

"Banning surrogate alcohols doesn't mean you're suddenly going to get a population who are upright and sober," Leon said. "But what you'll get is a population that takes longer to kill themselves."

With the exception of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the findings could be applicable to the rest of the country, said Daria Khulturina, who tracks demographics and death rates at the Presidential Academy of State Services in Moscow and is not connected to the study.

Surrogate alcohols are popular because of their low cost and their higher ethanol content compared with regular alcoholic drinks, she said. Alcohol-based medicine, for example, can cost 12 rubles to 20 rubles a bottle, while a bottle of vodka can cost 100 rubles. The amount of ethanol in the medicine is 70 percent to 80 percent, compared with 43 percent in vodka.

"The fatal dose of pure alcohol is 400 grams for the average person, but many people are ignorant about this," Khulturina said.

This drinking problem is especially flourishing among the poor in remote and economically depressed regions, she said.

The Federal Consumer Protection Service declined to comment on the study.

The country saw an outbreak of toxic hepatitis cases due to the consumption of antiseptics last fall, said Sergei Kolesnikov, a State Duma deputy and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He blamed the increase on a law on alcohol sales that came into force last July. The law asked companies to substitute isopropyl alcohol for ethanol in antiseptics, but many drinkers didn't know about the change and were poisoned. The change was aimed at getting people to stop drinking surrogate alcohols.

Kolesnikov said, however, that he doubted surrogate alcohols were a main contributor to hazardous drinking deaths.

Kolesnikov estimated that alcoholics account for 2.5 million of the country's population of 143 million. There is no way to count those who use surrogate alcohols, he said.

The average life expectancy for men is 59 years in Russia.

One half of working-age men die before the age of 60 due to the heavy drinking of alcohol such as beer, wine and spirits, according to the State Statistics Service.

The figure is four times higher than that of other countries in Eastern Europe.

Sixty percent were drunk at the time of their death.