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Medicine Shortage Is Latest Worry for Soviets

From Associated Press

The Soviet Union is swiftly running out of essential medicines, angering consumers already beset by shortages of gasoline, tobacco and food.

“As early as next February, the country may run out of drugs completely, because the pharmaceutical industry is crumbling even more rapidly than the rest of the economy,” Health Minister Igor Denisov warned.

“We have already seen tobacco riots,” the workers’ newspaper Trud commented. “Shall we now prepare for aspirin riots?”

Soviets are accustomed to permanent shortages of some goods, such as winter boots and automobile parts, and occasional shortages of many others, ranging from toothpaste to coffee.

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But as President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reforms have inched the Soviet Union toward a market economy, the resulting inflation and hoarding have worsened many of the perennial shortages and created new ones.

Drugs have never been plentiful, and Denisov said the industry is falling farther behind. He told Trud that the country met 52% of the domestic demand for medicine in 1985 but expects to meet only 39% this year and 30% in 1991.

In addition, the newspaper Moskovskaya Pravda said Moscow faces a potential “bread panic” because bakeries are unable to keep up with the spurt in demand as residents return to the city after August vacations.

Gasoline has long been rationed in some Soviet cities, and even in Moscow supplies have rarely been ample. But the situation has grown acute in recent days as car owners have made a run on gas stations.

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The evening television news program “Vremya” said drivers were reacting to rumors that the Soviet Union may export more oil to take advantage of higher prices caused by the Persian Gulf crisis.

In the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, “Vremya” said people were waiting in line all night to buy small amounts of fuel--even if it was not the right kind for their cars.

“Car owners are panicking,” the announcer said as the program showed people asleep in a line of cars.

The Health Ministry has said of the medicine shortage only that the pharmaceutical industry is crumbling.


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