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State Dep't cautions travelers about tainted liquor in Mexico

In the wake of investigative reports about illnesses and a death possibly connected to adulterated alcohol at Mexican resorts, the U.S. State Department updated its travel alerts to caution tourists to drink in moderation and "stop and seek medical attention if you begin to feel ill."

The department now cautions travelers to Mexico about the potential for bootlegged or spiked booze: "There have been allegations that consumption of  tainted or substandard alcohol has resulted in illness or blacking out. If you choose to drink alcohol, it is important to do so in moderation and to stop and seek medical attention if you begin to feel ill."

Wednesday's update followed an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of the death of a Wisconsin woman after she consumed what her family believes were tainted drinks at an all-inclusive resort near Cancun.

After that report, the newspaper investigated allegations made by other tourists that they had also been served dangerous alcohol at Mexican resorts.

Mexican officials have estimated that 43 percent of all the alcohol consumed in that country is bootlegged, and possibly produced in dangerous conditions.

The Journal Sentinel questioned whether all-inclusive resorts, which offer meals and drinks as well as rooms as a package deal, are using "cheap, bootleg booze" to cut costs:

The national health authority in Mexico has seized more than 1.4 million gallons of adulterated alcohol since 2010 — not just from small local establishments, but from hotels and other entertainment areas, according to a 2017 report by the country's Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks.

The bootleg liquor could be infused with grain alcohol or dangerous concentrations of methanol, cheaper alternatives to producing ethanol, government reports warn.

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And the mixtures are capable of making people extremely sick.

The blackouts have happened to men and women, young and old, to singles and to couples, according to interviews with nearly a dozen travelers and family members whose loved ones died or were injured at the resorts, as well as hospital records, ambulance receipts, hotel correspondence and other documents.

They have happened at Iberostar’s property in Cancun and at the company's cluster of resorts 30 miles to the south in Playa del Carmen. And they've happened to guests at other all-inclusive resorts in the region, such as Secrets and the Grand Oasis.

Often the vacationers report that they drank tequila, but in other cases it was rum, beer or another alcohol.

Some said they had only a drink or two before losing consciousness and waking up hours later — with no recollection of how they got back to their rooms or to the hospital, or how they were injured.

Those interviewed said the feeling of being drugged is far different than that of being drunk. They felt certain that whatever happened to them was caused by more than drinking too heavily.

Terrifying is a word many used to describe it.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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