Updated: October 3, 2018 4:42:17 pm
Poisonous batches of bootleg alcohol have killed at least 42 people, blinded more than a dozen others and sent hundreds to the hospital across Iran in recent weeks, the country’s Health Ministry said.
The police are said to have raided at least one underground distillery and arrested dozens of people in connection with the tainted drinks. The youngest victim was a 19-year-old woman, the BBC reported.
It was not clear what was in the concoctions. In the past, authorities have blamed high levels of methanol — a simple alcohol used as an antifreeze and for biofuels — for contaminating drinks.
The deaths come several years into a government effort to begin acknowledging Iran’s drinking problem and to provide treatment for addiction. Taboo for devout Muslims, alcohol has been illegal in Iran since the 1979 revolution, and those caught consuming it can be punished with a lashing.
But smuggled and homemade liquor is widely available, with alcohol suppliers making deliveries to people’s doorsteps.
Dozens of people die from alcohol poisoning every year in Iran, but the death toll in recent weeks was unusually high. The poisonings spread from provinces in northeastern Iran and near Tehran to the southern coast.
A steep drop in the value of Iran’s currency since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal has driven up the price of imported items. That may be making it more difficult for Iranians to purchase smuggled foreign alcohol, which could in turn be steering them to homemade liquor.
Iran’s drinking culture was pushed into the shadows for many years by a government peddling the official line that no one drank. But reality eventually intruded, making plain that Iran, like many other nations, has an alcohol problem. Official statistics show that at least 10 percent of the population uses alcohol.
Now dozens of private clinics and government institutions have opened help desks and special wards for alcoholics. The government has allowed a large and growing network of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, modeled after those in the United States. And the government has tried to combat drunken driving by giving officers breathalyzers and running public campaigns about the dangers.
In the last three weeks, at least 16 people went blind and 170 others were forced to undergo dialysis after drinking the bootleg alcohol, the government said. In all, 460 people were hospitalized.
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