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Fatal Alcohol Poisonings and Poisonings by Other Toxic Substances in Russia
ISSN: 2155-6105

Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy
Open Access

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Fatal Alcohol Poisonings and Poisonings by Other Toxic Substances in Russia

Razvodovsky YE*
International Academy of Sobriety, Belarus
*Corresponding Author: Razvodovsky YE, International Academy of Sobriety, Belarus, Tel: + 375 0152 70 18 84, Fax: +375 0152 43 53 41, Email: [email protected]

Received: 14-Aug-2017 / Accepted Date: 25-Sep-2017 / Published Date: 02-Oct-2017 DOI: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000344

Abstract

Background: It is widely believed that one of the negative consequences of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in Russia in the mid-1980s was the dramatic growth in the number of deaths from poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates. Objective: This paper aims to clarify this important issue by analyzing the trends in fatal alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances in Russia between 1956 and 2005. Methods: To examine the relation between fatal alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances trends across the study period a time series analysis was performed using the statistical package “Statistica 12. StatSoft”. Results: The alcohol poisonings mortality rates for both sexes dropped sharply between 1984 and 1988. Substantial reduction was also recorded in the number of deaths from poisonings by other toxic substances in the mid-1980s. According to the results of time-series analysis there was a positive and statistically significant association between fatal poisonings by alcohol and poisonings by other toxic substances at the population level. Conclusion: The official statistical data do not support the claims that the Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign contributed to the dramatic growth in fatal poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates.

Keywords: Fatal alcohol poisonings; Poisonings by other toxic substances; Mortality

Introduction

Alcohol is the biggest killer in Russia, accounting for about half of deaths among working-age men [1-3]. The rate of deaths from alcohol poisoning in this country is among the highest in the world [4]. Compelling evidence suggests that the alcohol surrogates (industrial spirits, antiseptics, lighter fluid and medications containing alcohol) may be responsible for the extremely high level of fatal alcohol poisonings in Russia [5]. Some experts reasonably argue that alcohol surrogates pose a risk to human health and undermine alcohol control policy measures introduced in this country over the last decade [6,7].

Historically, alcohol control policies designed to restrict availability of legal alcohol in Russia have driven surrogates consumption growth. Alcohol surrogates consumption increased substantially following the prohibition of vodka sales in Russia during World War I [8]. A similar rapid rise in consumption of moonshine (Samogon) and surrogates has occurred during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in the mid-1980s [9]. This campaign is the most well-known natural experiment in the field of alcohol policy. In May 1985 Gorbachev launched the anti-alcohol campaign which was design to tackle alcohol-related problems in the Soviet Union by restricting the availability and affordability of alcohol [1].

The opinions about the effects of this natural experiment vary substantially. Most experts agree that the campaign did produce a number of positive effects, such as a decline in alcohol consumption and a drop in alcohol-related mortality [1,4]. Furthermore, the antialcohol campaign has shown that alcohol control measures may have a direct impact on population drinking and alcohol-related harm in Russia. Some experts, however, argue that the beneficial health and social effects of this campaign have been overestimated [10]. It is widely believed that one of the negative consequences of this campaign was the dramatic growth in the number of deaths from poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates [11].

This paper aims to clarify this important issue by analyzing the trends in fatal alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances in Russia between 1956 and 2005.

Materials and Method

The data on age-adjusted sex-specific mortality rates per 1000.000 of the population are taken from the Russian State Statistical Committee (http://www.gks.ru). To examine the relation between fatal alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances trends across the study period a time series analysis was performed using the statistical package “Statistica 12. StatSoft.” Bivariate correlations between the raw data from two time series can often be spurious due to common sources in the trends and due to autocorrelation [12]. One way to reduce the risk of obtaining a spurious relation between two variables that have common trends is to remove these trends by means of a “differencing” procedure. The process whereby systematic variation within a time series is eliminated before the examination of potential causal relationships is referred to as “prewhitening.” This is subsequently followed by an inspection of the cross-correlation function in order to estimate the association between the two prewhitened time series.

Results and Discussion

According to official statistics, the male alcohol poisonings mortality rate increased 2.9 times (from 159.7 to 469.7 per 1000.000 populations), while the number of deaths from poisonings by other toxic substances increased 3.5 times (from 78.4 to 270.4 per 1.000.000 population) in Russia from 1956 to 2005. The female alcohol poisonings mortality rate increased 4.1 times (from 27.9 to 113.6 per 1000.000 populations), while the number of deaths from poisonings by other toxic substances increased 1.6 times (from 37.0 to 60.2 per 1.000.000 populations) during the same period. Across the whole period the male alcohol poisonings mortality rate was 2 times higher than the mortality rate from poisonings by other toxic substances (298.7 vs. 149.5 per 1000.000 populations) with a rate ratio of 2.0 in 1956 decreasing to 1.73 by the 2005. The female alcohol poisonings mortality rate was 1.5 times higher than the mortality rate from poisonings by other toxic substances (66.2 vs. 44.8 per 1000.000 populations) with a rate ratio of 0.75 in 1956 increasing to 1.9 by the 2005.

The trends in the sex-specific fatal alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances are displayed in Figures 1 and 2. The graphical evidence suggests that both trends closely follow each other across the study period. A Spearman correlation analysis suggests a strong association between two variables for males (r=0.85; p<0.000) and females (r=0.94; p<0.000). There were sharp trends in the time series data across the entire study period. These systematic variations were well accounted for by the application of first-order differencing. After pre-whitening the cross-correlations between fatal poisonings by alcohol and poisonings by other toxic substances time series were inspected. The outcome indicated statistically significant cross-correlation between the two variables for males (r=0.67; Standard error=0.13) and females (r=0.73; Standard error=0.13) at lag zero. According to the results of time-series analysis there was a positive and statistically significant association between fatal poisonings by alcohol and poisonings by other toxic substances at the population level. This research evidence suggests that these phenomena are closely interrelated.

addiction-research-alcohol-poisonings

Figure 1: Trends in male alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances mortality rates in Russia between 1956 and 2005.

addiction-research-rates-Russia

Figure 2: Trends in female alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances mortality rates in Russia between 1956 and 2005.

As can be seen from Figures 1 and 2, the alcohol poisonings mortality rates for both sexes dropped sharply between 1984 between 1988. Substantial reduction was also recorded in the number of deaths from poisonings by other toxic substances in the mid-1980s. Thus, the empirical evidence does not support the claims that the anti-alcohol campaign contributed to the dramatic growth in fatal poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates.

A large increase in the drinking of poor quality illegal alcohol and non-beverage alcohol surrogates underlies the extremely high rates of fatal poisonings by alcohol and poisonings by other toxic substances recorded in the early 1990s [1]. Several cases of mass poisoning by alcohol surrogates were recorded during the last decade [13]. The case of surrogate poisoning was registered in Yekaterinburg (Siberia) in 2004, and further reports spread among the Russian regions during the following years [5]. Consumption of surrogate alcohols which contains high concentrations of methanol remains a widespread problem in contemporary Russia [7].

Conclusion

In conclusion, the official statistical data do not support the claims that the Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign contributed to the dramatic growth in fatal poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates. The parallel trends in mortality from alcohol poisonings and poisonings by other toxic substances may suggest that a substantial number of deaths from other toxic substances are actually deaths from alcohol surrogates. In relation to this, the Russian government should consider a number of potentially effective approaches addressing to the problem of the non-beverage alcohol surrogates, including raising public awareness of the life treating danger, posed by these products.

References

Citation: Razvodovsky YE (2017) Fatal Alcohol Poisonings and Poisonings by Other Toxic Substances in Russia. J Addict Res Ther 8: 344. DOI: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000344

Copyright: © 2017 Razvodovsky YE. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

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Review summary

  1. Sergei V. Jargin
    Posted on Dec 01 2017 at 1:26 pm
    Alcohol-related poisonings in Russia: Obfuscated truth Yuri Razvodovsky asked me per e-mail to write a “friendly” letter to Editor referring to his article [1]. The original correspondence is reproduced here below after the reference list. In reply, I cited the phrase from the article: “The official statistical data do not support the claims that the… аnti-alcohol campaign contributed to the dramatic growth in fatal poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates” [1] and commented that I witnessed mass poisonings e.g. with window cleaner in 1988. Poisonings with methanol and carbon tetrachloride (used e.g. in dry cleaning) were known to occur as well. Considering the large scale of the window cleaner sales in some places e.g. in Siberia, it was knowingly tolerated by authorities. During the anti-alcohol campaign (1985-1989), consumption of technical alcohol-containing liquids, lotions and self-made alcohol (samogon) was known and seen to be increased considerably [2]. Razvodovsky replied that “there are two realities: one, which we both know, and another – official statistics”. Obviously, Razvodovsky should have discussed in his article [1] the “realities we both know” i.e. common knowledge and observations; without that his paper is misleading. The above citation indicates that Razvodovsky knowingly obfuscated facts, which impedes further discussions. Doubting the data and conclusions of the article [1], I asked Razvodovsky to send me a link to the statistics used in his article. Razvodovsky did not send the link but replied that the data were partly confidential, partly available from the Russian Statistical Committee; the URL cited in the article [1]: http://www.gks.ru. There are no other references pertaining to the statistics in [1]. Using this URL, I was unable to find data corresponding to the statistics and graphs in the article [1]. If even the official data exist, they are not necessarily reliable. Statistics from the former Soviet Union generally had both meaning and significance; however, the release of information was controlled, sometimes being designed to mislead: examples of data manipulation for propaganda purposes are known; more details and references are in [3]. Scientific statistics has been manipulated as well [4,5]. For example, between 1984 and 1994, mortality rates in Russia underwent a rapid decline followed by a steep increase. The decrease in mortality and, specifically, the poisoning mortality rates [1] might have been initially overstated to highlight successes of the anti-alcohol campaign, subsequently compensated by overstated mortality figures [3]. Today, the increase in the life expectancy in Russia is apparently overstated again to emphasize successes of current healthcare policies. Therefore, behind the “huge variation in Russian mortality” [6] seems to be an artefact. Furthermore, Razvodovsky mentioned in his correspondence that he is a “military man”. Indeed, since the late 1980s, many former party, military and other functionaries as well as their protégés were introduced into educational and scientific institutions of the former Soviet Union. They used “manliness” i.e. hidden threats and intimidation not only to facilitate their own careers but also to push through prescribed ideology in the guise of scientific truth [4]. For example, phrases like “Alcohol is the biggest killer in Russia” [1] are aimed to camouflage shortages of the public healthcare shifting responsibility from authorities to patients i.e. supposedly self-inflicted diseases due to excessive alcohol consumption. Another statement: “…alcohol surrogates (industrial spirits, antiseptics, lighter fluid and medications containing alcohol) may be responsible for the extremely high level of fatal alcohol poisonings in Russia” [1] creates impression that consumers deliberately purchase surrogates for drinking. In fact, consumption of alcohol-containing technical liquids, lotions etc. decreased abruptly after the anti-alcohol campaign, when vodka, beer and other beverages have become easily available and relatively cheap. However, technical alcohol from non-edible sources (synthetic and cellulosic) has been used after the anti-alcohol campaign for production of beverages sold through legally operating shops, eateries and previously also kiosks [7,8]. Finally, Razvodovsky mentioned in his correspondence the publication pressure, forcing him to publish as much as possible. Note that science, to be truthful, must be free from all kinds of pressure. Considering the above and previously published arguments [9-12], numerous papers by Yuri Razvodovsky (spelled also Iuri Razvodovskii in the PubMed) are misleading. References 1. Razvodovsky YE (2017) Fatal Alcohol Poisonings and Poisonings by Other Toxic Substances in Russia. J Addict Res Ther 8: 344. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000344 2. Jargin SV (2017) Pine tree tapping in Siberia with special reference to alcohol consumption. J Addiction Prevention 5(1): 3. 3. Jargin SV (2015) Cardiovascular mortality trends in Russia: possible mechanisms. Nat Rev Cardiol 12(12): 740. 4. Jargin SV (2013) Some aspects of medical education in Russia. Am J Med Stud 1(2): 4-7. 5. Jargin SV (2017) Scientific misconduct and related topics. Am J Exp Clin Res 4(1): 197-201. 6. Leon DA, Chenet L, Shkolnikov VM, Zakharov S, et al. (1997) Huge variation in Russian mortality rates 1984-94: artefact, alcohol, or what? Lancet 350: 383-388. 7. Jargin SV (2016) Questionable information on poisonings by alcohol surrogates. Interdiscip Toxicol 9(3-4): 83-84 8. Jargin SV (2017) Popular alcoholic beverages in Russia with special reference to quality and toxicity. J Addiction Prevention 5(2): 6. 9. Jargin SV (2016) Alcoholic beverage type and pancreatitis: A letter from Russia. Pancreas 45(5): e18-19. 10. Jargin SV (2015) Some aspects of Nonbeverage alcohol consumption in the former Soviet Union. Psychiatry J 2015: 507391. 11. Jargin SV (2016) Alcohol and alcoholism in Russia since 1985 with special reference to the suicide rate. Int J Psychiatry 1(2). 12. Jargin SV (2015) Vodka vs. fortified wine in Russia: Retrospective view. Alcohol Alcohol 50(5): 624-625. E-mail correspondence Jargin-Razvodovsky, cited in the text above. Приказывать Вам не смею по разным причинам. Основная из них - не люблю этого делать, хотя человек военный (сержант Советской Армии, в последствии - старший лейтенант медслужбы в запасе). Касательно Ваших замечаний. Здесь сталкиваются две реальности: одна - очевидцами которой мы с Вами были, а другая - данные официальной статистики. Поэтому здесь есть место для дискуссии. Что касается данных, которые я использовал. Их мне любезно предоставили коллеги на условиях конфиденциальности. Данные по алкогольным отравлениям имеются на сайте Росстата. С уважением Юрий Понедельник, 27 ноября 2017, 15:31 +02:00 от sjargin : Здравствуйте, Юрий! Вы пишете: the official statistical data do not support the claims that the аnti-alcohol campaign contributed to the dramatic growth in fatal poisonings by non-beverage alcohol surrogates. Я своими глазами видел в Сибири в 1988 г. отравленных жидкостью для мойки окон, явление, очевидно носило массовый характер. Как прикажете возражать? Юрий, не могли бы Вы прислать ссылку на использованные Вами статистические данные по алкогольным отравлениям? Заранее большое спасибо, с самыми лучшими пожеланиями, Сергей Понедельник, 27 ноября 2017, 13:55 +04:00 от Yury Razvodovsky : Здравствуйте, Сергей! Надеюсь, у Вас все нормально. Периодически с интересом читаю Ваши работы и ссылаюсь на них. Хотел отправить Вам, согласно Вашему запросу статью по отравлениям, но увидел, что Вы ее уже получили. Прошу Вас написать письмо в редакцию по этой статье (в дружеской манере), а я в такой же манере на него отвечу. На работе требуют отчитываться публикациями, так что приходится изобретать различные способы "повышения производительности труда".
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