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Alarm sounded over methanol poisoning

Update: September, 23/2017 - 08:00
A sample of Đại Lợi Company’s alcohol. — Photo
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — Đoàn Mạnh H., a 45-year-old heavy drinker from Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District, died of drinking methanol with water in June.

A blood test showed that his methanol concentration was up to 16 times higher than the permitted level.

According to online news website Dân Trí, his relatives said the victim bought a 500ml bottle of medical alcohol produced by Đại Lợi International Joint Stock Company and mixed it with water to drink as wine.

Chemist Trần Hồng Côn said that ethanol was made from grain and sugar, the same ingredients as rice wine, while methanol was compounded from hydro and carbon dioxide. This meant methanol was extremely hazardous to humans. Inhaling or drinking methanol may cause headaches, vomiting, vision loss, respiratory failure - and even death.

Côn said that because of its cheap price, methanol was sold as medical alcohol, in spite of its threats to human health. Methanol was sold at VNĐ6,000 to 8,000 (30 to 40 US cents) per litre.

Most methanol poisoning cases recorded by the Việt Nam Poison Control Centre at Bạch Mai Hospital are related to drinking medical alcohol.

Lê Văn T. from the central province of Thanh Hoá was taken to the hospital in a coma in July this year. He also had hypertension and with signs of severe acidosis. These were all typical symptoms of methanol poisoning.

Nguyễn Trung Nguyên, a doctor at the centre, said that T. bought Đại Lợi Company’s medical alcohol to drink.

His X-ray images showed brain oedema. The methanol concentration in the blood was 210mg/dL, while a concentration of 40-50mg/dL is considered extremely high.

Weak responses

In July, Hà Nội Department of Health checked on Đại Lợi Company in Cầu Giấy District.

At that time, the company produced two permits for the production and sale of alcohol. However, the department concluded that these two documents were no longer valid and could not replace a production license.

After discussion with the Department of Drug Administration under the Ministry of Health, the Hà Nội Department of Health decided to destroy 2,800 litres of Đại Lợi Company’s alcohol and fined the company VNĐ7 million ($320).

According to the ministry’s regulation, medical alcohol must be permitted by the Drug Administration Department. Medical alcohol may contain methanol with a low content.

However, according to Nguyễn Đăng Hoà, former principal of Hà Nội University of Medicine, medical alcohol must contain 90 per cent ethanol and 10 per cent water.

Therefore, doctors and physicists recommend tightening the management of medical alcohol products and to issue regulations for ethanol and methanol concentrations in those products.

Bạch Mai Hospital has asked the Drug Administration Department to check out medical alcohol products and manage the concentration of methanol used in medical alcohol. Simultaneously, they required to clearly indicate the concentration of methanol and ethanol in products’ labels. In case of containing methanol, it is essential for medical alcohol products to be labelled “containing methanol – do not drink.”

Ironically, while the proposal was waiting to be considered, in August, there were more cases of methanol poisoning recorded.

To prevent people from misusing medical alcohol, doctors of Bạch Mai Hospital recommended producers to use containers that were easily recognisable.

They also asked the Ministry of Industry and Trade to add a colour indicator to methanol to avoid mixing it in medical alcohol. — VNS

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