As long as there are teenagers around, there will always be a group that pushes the limits
and bends the law to enjoy a little bit of mischievous fun. But the usual stand-bys of sneaking beer at a party or trying out a fake ID are giving way to a much more dangerous solution . . . hand sanitizer.
The alcohol-based hand sanitizer
that is becoming rapidly more available, from schools to hospitals to public events, is the reason behind a rash of alcohol poisonings in the San Fernando Valley, California. It turns out that the teenagers were getting drunk – and severely ill – from the little bottles you can pick up at the pharmacy for as little as a dollar.
Even worse, they’re not just sipping from the dispenser. The kids in question are actually using a sophisticated process to turn the gel into a shot of straight-up liquor.
Some of the teenagers reportedly used salt to isolate the ethyl alcohol in the disinfectant, while others went online to find information about distillation. And since the average hand sanitizer clocks in at about 60 percent alcohol, the liquor they produced could end up being as high as 120 proof, an entire 20 percent higher than the average shot of vodka (usually 80 proof). That’s a major drink, especially for a child.
And it comes with major issues.The New England Journal of Medicine
cites a case of a 49-year-old prison inmate who was described as “red-eyed,” “loony,” “combative,” and “intoxicated” after he drank from a gallon container of hand sanitizer. The California teens were suffering from slurred speech and a burning sensation in their stomachs, with just a few swallows resulting in extreme drunkenness
. And it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, as the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that in 2005 and 2006, there were over 20,000 calls about toxic exposure to ethanol-based cleansers like Purell.
So what can you do if you’re worried about the prevalence of this household product that can actually be extremely dangerous?
Concerned parents need to talk to their kids and monitor the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Make sure that kids know the extreme consequences that can result from even one sip of the potent liquid. And if you’re worried that your child may still look for that easy drink in the medicine cabinet, you can switch to foam-based cleansers that are more difficult to distill or drink; or even give up the convenient little bottles. The most important thing is stopping this trend before it becomes an epidemic.
Like I said . . . teenagers are always going to try to find new ways to push the envelope. Let’s just hope they go back to something more harmless – like ignoring their curfew.
"The New England Journal of Medicine." Intoxication of a Prison Inmate with an Ethyl Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer” NEJM
. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2012. <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc063110>.
Wherman, Jessica. "Proper Monitoring of Hand Sanitizer." American Association of Poison Control Centers
. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2012. <http://www.aapcc.org/>.