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Russia Minister Raises Alarm Over Rampant Alcoholism

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev
ST. PETERSBURG (Reuters) -- Russia should revive the Soviet-era practise of compulsory treatment for alcoholics, the interior minister said on November 7.

Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told President Dmitry Medvedev that there were 253,000 alcoholics registered with police but that the actual number must be higher.

"The real picture is much worse," he told Medvedev at a meeting of law-enforcement agencies in St. Petersburg.

The Moscow Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry says more than 10 percent of Russia's population of 142 million could be alcoholics.

"I propose returning to the idea of compulsory treatment for alcoholism," Nurgaliyev said, adding that alcohol-related crime was an acute problem.

Russians are some of the world's heaviest drinkers. Demographers often cite high alcohol consumption as a major factor in the low life expectancy of Russian men.

Russians consume the equivalent of 15 litres of pure alcohol per head each year, chief public health official Gennady Onishchenko said in a newspaper interview last year.

The Kremlin has for decades tried to get a grip on the problem but Russians' love of vodka and illegally made liquor -- known as samogon -- has always overcome government measures to combat alcoholism.

In the 1960s, alcoholics were forced into labour camps. Soviet authorities said hard work would cure alcoholics.