Three Men Die After Mistaking Monk’s Ointment for Rice Wine

Three men died from strychnine poisoning in Kandal province on Sunday after drinking from a jug of topical ointment they had stolen from a monk and mistaken for wine.

Deputy Khsach Kandal district police chief Un Yong said Monday that a group of five men from Prey Veng province were at the district’s Wat Sithor early Sunday morning to help raise money for the pagoda when they noticed a 10-liter jug of what looked to be wine and started drinking it.

Mr. Yong said the men did not realize that the liquid had been laced with “sleng”—or strychnine, which is used to relieve aches and pains—and had consumed half the jug before they got sick.

“They saw the monk’s sleng fruit rice wine, a traditional Khmer balm for pain relief,” he said. “But they took it to drink, and it made them die and get seriously poisoned.”

The police chief said that three of the men, between the ages of 57 and 62, died on the way to the nearest referral hospital. The other two men, who survived, were transferred to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh and would likely be discharged today, he said.

Strychnine is a white, odorless crystalline powder derived from a plant native to South Asia. Once available in pill form to treat a variety of human ailments, it is used primarily as a pesticide today.

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