Coming on the heels of cough medicine, hand sanitizer is the latest in a string of household products used to induce intoxication, and it has public health officials worried, as a few squirts of hand sanitizer could equal a couple of shots of hard liquor. Liquid hand sanitizer is 62 to 65 percent ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, the main ingredient in beer, wine and spirits, making it 120-proof. To compare, a bottle of vodka is 80-proof.
Medical experts are warning parents to watch for danger signs of young people getting drunk on the over counter cleansers, doctors say ingesting hand sanitizer can produce the same side effects as consuming large amounts of alcohol – slurred speech, unresponsiveness, possibly falling into a coma state. Long-term use could lead to brain, liver and kidney damage.
Teenagers even use salt to break up the alcohol from the sanitizer to get a more powerful dose. These distillation instructions can be found on the Internet in tutorial videos that describe in detail how to do it. Other troubling videos have surfaced online showing kids laughing as they purposely ingested sanitizer, many boasting of fulfilling a dare. Dr. Sean Nordt, director of toxicology at the USC Los Angeles County Emergency Department, told ABC News it used to get reports of children accidentally consuming small amounts of hand sanitizer, but now the trend is toward purposeful ingestion by those who cannot purchase or obtain alcohol legally.
And it’s a tough problem to combat, as hand sanitizer is inexpensive and seems to be available at the entrance of every door. Young people can buy pocket-size bottles, which can be the equivalent of two-three shots of hard liquor, or huge tubs at most markets and stores. Foam hand sanitizer is a safer option to keep around the house, but any hand sanitizer will be at risk for alcohol poisoning, as the foam type is still 62 percent ethyl alcohol."
Doctors are cautioning parents to treat hand sanitizers like they'd treat any medication in the home as far as safety is concerned. Keep it out of reach, out of sight, out of mind when not in use. Most stores will sell it to an adolescent without thinking twice. "Over the years, they have ingested all sorts of things," said Helen Arbogast, injury prevention coordinator in the trauma program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "Cough syrup had reached a very sexy point where young people were using it.... We want to be sure this doesn't take on the same trend."
The recent cases involving teenagers surprised doctors because there were no such cases last year. The incidents also raised concerns about the lack of awareness among parents of the risks linked to the popular hygiene product. Even small bottles contain highly concentrated alcohol. "If parents buy hand sanitizer, they should purchase the foam version rather than the gel type because it is harder to extract the alcohol and teenagers may be less likely to drink it," Arbogast said.
Parents also shouldn't leave hand sanitizer around the house and should monitor it like any other liquor or medicine. They should also watch for signs of intoxication, she said. "When young people are actively and purposely ingesting it, that is when it becomes a real concern," she said.
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