Tainted Alcohol To Blame For 25 Deaths In Costa Rica

By Kelly Burch 08/22/19

The death toll from tainted alcohol keeps rising in Costa Rica, with dozens more hospitalized.

tainted alcohol in Costa Rica
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Authorities in the Central American country of Costa Rica have seized thousands of containers of alcohol and shut down some establishments that serve liquor as the death toll from methanol poisoning has climbed this summer to 25. 

The country’s Health Ministry said in a statement that 59 people have been hospitalized in connection with the tainted alcohol; 25 of them have died. Though Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, the Health Ministry said that nearly everyone who has been affected has been a resident of Costa Rica. 

"The Costa Rica Tourism Institute reaffirms that no tourists have been affected by adulterated alcohol in Costa Rica, and that visitor safety is priority. The local authorities continue to monitor the situation and work to understand and remain transparent about the investigation,” Costa Rica Tourism Board representative Thalia Guest told USA Today. 

A Tourist's Account

However, one American man who had recently left Costa Rica believes he was affected by the poisoning. California resident Walker Barnes, 25, told NBC News that he drank rum the night before leaving Costa Rica. When he returned home he was hospitalized for extreme pain and aches.

At first his doctors were confused about what the condition could be, but when Barnes shared reports about the poisoned alcohol with his medical team, they agreed that it sounded like he was dealing with methanol poisoning. 

Methanol is a type of alcohol not intended for consumption. It's said that people will add methanol to liquor in order to increase the volume of the drink. It’s believed to be the substance poisoning people in Costa Rica. 

In Costa Rica, most of the poisonings have been reported in San José, the capital, and in Alajuela, another city. The victims have ranged in age from 32 to 72, and have included 19 men and six women. Six brands of alcohol are known to have been affected. They are Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, Aguardiente Estrella, Aguardiente Barón Rojo, Aguardiente Timbuka, and Aguardiente Molotov. 

Proceed With Caution

In July, the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica urged people traveling to the country to proceed with caution when drinking, especially from the brands that have been connected with poisonings. 

“The Embassy strongly recommends all persons avoid consuming alcohol from these brands,” the Embassy said in a statement. “The Government of Costa Rica is investigating the situation and the Embassy remains in contact Costa Rica authorities regarding the ongoing investigation.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.