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Russia Hit By Cheap Bootleg Vodka Epidemic

Hospital wards in some of Russia's most remote locations have been overcrowded for several days as scores of patients, almost exclusively men, have been // admitted with cases of severe alcohol poisoning as a result of drinking bootleg vodka.

Hundreds have literally drunk themselves to death with cheap bootleg vodka that has been mixed with deicing liquid or allegedly even insecticide.

Most of the numerous victims taken to hospitals over the past days were almost entirely unemployed, alcohol-dependent men from the provinces.

Authorities in the Twer region northwest of Moscow have for the first time declared a state of emergency following reports of mass cases of alcohol poisoning.

More than 5,000 km east of Moscow, Irkutsk has also announced a state of emergency as doctors have diagnosed more than 600 cases of "toxic jaundice".

In the region of Belgorod, on the border to Ukraine, the number of alcohol poisonings rose lately to almost 1,000, with 48 cases proving fatal.

Experts familiar with the scene blame the government's alcohol policy for the wave of poisonings. In July, many small shops that sold alcohol were forced to close because they could not meet the requirements for a tightened licencing.

Unscrupulous merchants took advantage of the loophole and swamped the country with their life-threatening booze, said the daily Nowaya Gazeta, which is viewed as critical of the Russian government.

According to estimates, black market dealers have made a booming business, making a profit of 10 billion rubles ($374 million) over the past months. The alcohol content and price make bootleg vodka attractive.

A litre of self-made vodka with a 70 percent alcohol content costs only 25 rubles.

In the Irkutsk region, cheap vodka is being sold illegally in garages, reported engineer Vladimir Alexandrovitch. "Taste determines the quality. If it tastes sweet, it is poison
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