Teens Using Hand Sanitizer to Get Drunk

In the latest quest by young adults to get high from common household products, six teens are reported to have been treated in Southern California emergency rooms over the past few months after drinking hand sanitizer.

The Los Angeles Times reports that some public health officials are concerned that this could be the leading edge of a dangerous trend. To teenagers who can’t buy alcohol, hand sanitizer may seem like an inexpensive and accessible alternative.

Liquid hand sanitizer contains 60% ethyl alcohol. Some of the teens extracted alcohol from hand sanitizer with salt, a technique they found on the Internet. The resulting substance resembles 100 proof grain alcohol and is far more potent than whiskey or vodka, which is typically about 90 proof. Dozens of videos about drinking hand sanitizer are available on YouTube; many show teens as they drink it and become drunk. There are also videos showing young people rubbing hand sanitizer on their skin and then lighting it on fire.

Dr. Cyrus Ragan, director of toxicology for the L.A. County public health department compares hand sanitizer to a shot of whiskey or other hard liquor. “All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunk teenager,” Dr. Raga told the Times. “There is no question that it’s dangerous and the potential for overdose is there.”

Emergency rooms in New York City have also seen cases of teenagers who ingested hand sanitizers. In both Los Angeles and New York, teenagers’ symptoms included:

  • slurred speech
  • a burning sensation in the stomach
  • dizziness
  • nausea and vomiting

Although there was no smell of alcohol on their breath and they denied drinking alcohol, their blood alcohol level was elevated.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the deaths of two homeless men earlier this year were linked to a lethal cocktail of mouthwash and hand sanitizer. The New Mexico Poison Center has received 14 reports this year of people who ingested hand sanitizer. Nationwide, more than 3,700 cases of hand sanitizer poisoning are reported each year. About 2,900 of these cases are accidents involving children under the age of five.

Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City believes that warning labels should be placed on hand sanitizers to alert the public to the potential risk. As more teens learn about the intoxicating effects of hand sanitizer, parents may want to consider purchasing foam-type hand sanitizers since alcohol is harder to extract from foam than from gel sanitizers.

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