Counterfeit Alcohol May Be Responsible For 20 Deaths In Costa Rica

By Beth Leipholtz 07/25/19

The government has reportedly confiscated 30,000 bottles of alcohol that are potentially tainted. 

people toasting with alcohol in Costa Rica

Twenty people in Costa Rica have died after ingesting alcohol tainted with what is believed to be “toxic levels of methanol,” according to CNN. The twentieth victim was reported to have died Wednesday evening.

The Ministry of Health has issued a national alert in the Central American country, following the deaths of 14 men and five women since the beginning of June.

The deaths are believed to be the result of the tainted alcohol. The government has confiscated 30,000 bottles of alcohol likely to also be tainted. 

Methanol is often found in counterfeit liquor, as it allows those selling the alcohol to increase the amount of liquid in a bottle as well as the potency of the bottle.

The World Health Organization notes that outbreaks such as this one are often connected to "adulterated counterfeit or informally-produced spirit drinks."

Tainted Alcohol Is a Global Issue

Costa Rica is not the only country facing an outbreak. CNN reported this past February that in India, tainted alcohol caused at least 154 deaths and 200 hospitalizations

Tourists in Mexico have also faced similar circumstances in recent years. According to Vice, between December 2017 and February 2018, about 150 American tourists reported instances of losing consciousness and vomiting after ingesting alcohol at resorts in popular Mexican cities, including Cancun, Los Cabos and Playa del Carmen. 

The Dominican Republic has also made headlines recently, where at least 10 Americans have died after consuming alcohol there in the last year. According to Vice, many tourists visiting the country have also reported getting sick, including a large group of Jimmy Buffett fans

While the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking has reported that about 29% of alcohol in the Dominican Republic is counterfeit, the country's Minister of Tourism Javier Garcia says the area is “a tranquil, peaceful destination and the safest in the region.”

“In the last five years, the Dominican Republic has welcomed almost 30 million people, evidencing the large preference of visitors as well as the safety levels of the destination,” Garcia said during a press conference in June. “This also demonstrates these cases are isolated and regrettable. We ask the National Police to speed up as fast as possible the investigation into these cases.”

What To Look For

Nathan Lents, a biology expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, tells Vice that there are a number of precautions that tourists can take in order to stay safe while consuming alcohol in foreign countries. One is to avoid buying cheap alcohol, especially those that are clear like vodka and gin since these are easier to replicate than other alcohols.

Lents also adds that counterfeit alcohol often has a sweeter scent than normal alcohol because of methanol, chloroform, and acetone. Setting alcohol on fire can also give away the presence of such substances, as methanol can burn green or orange rather than alcohol’s normal blue burn.

“Or just stick with beer,” Lents says. “You don’t see a lot of this stuff popping up with beer at all. And just in case, stick with beer that you know and are familiar with.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.