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Hand Sanitizer: The New Teen Drug of Choice?

Inexpensive and easily accessible, it contains 62 percent ethyl alcohol. Downing the liquid can be dangerous.

The latest way for teenagers to get drunk apparently is with something you might least expect—ethanol-based hand sanitizer.

Yep, it's that same bottled cleanser you use to help rid yourself of unwanted germs after grabbing a grocery cart handle or touching the knob of a public restroom door.

I use the stuff whenever I cannot get to a sink to wash my hands. In fact, I actually carry a bottle in my purse.

But the new way to catch a buzz?

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that as many as six teenagers have shown up in two San Fernando Valley emergency rooms in the last few months with alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizer. Some of the teens used salt to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer, making a potent drink similar to a shot of hard liquor. Distillation instructions can be found on the Internet.

According to the report, 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.

When I was a teenager, my counterparts would inhale spray paint and it became such a problem that hardware stores and the like started locking it up. Years later, cold medicines and took its place, and they too have been removed from drugstores shelves.

But hand sanitizer? I hate the way it smells and cannot even begin to fathom how it must taste.

Two Laguna Niguel moms who keep their ears to the ground on what teens are getting into these days say they have indeed heard of this new craze.

“It has a high alcohol content. I don't believe this is as popular as 'bath salts' and 'spice.' Both are sold legally at smoke shops and are highly addictive,” said Christine Brant, who co-produced the teen documentary about prescription drug abuse, . “These are far more popular than hand sanitizer and are causing a lot of kids to get in to trouble. The FDA will soon make them illegal but in the meantime they are quite popular and causing big problems as well as death.”

Natalie Costa, producer of another prescription drug teen documentary called , said she has also heard of hand sanitizer being consumed to get high.

“This seems to be the newest fad in getting high by teens. It's cheap - easy to get and it's the latest 'thing.'  I haven't heard of anyone in this area doing it. However, now that the media has exposed it - we will probably hear more of it.  The solution at home is to buy foam sanitizer.”  

She added that she thinks it is "crazy and dangerous."

“Pouring 120-proof alcohol into a child is dangerous. So many things can happen, from alcohol poisoning to drunken driving accidents/deaths,” she said.

While these moms have heard of teens reaching for hand sanitizer, another local mom, , says its news to her, but she is not surprised.

“I can't comprehend this at all, the taste alone makes me cringe. So, I guess a parent will have to forget the old washing your mouth out with soap technique, because the child won't even mind,” said Barber, co-producer of the film Overtaken and an advocate against prescription drugs.

Her son, Jarrod, 19, died of a prescription drug overdose in 2010.

“My personal feeling is that nothing really fazes me anymore! Whether it's drinking liquid soap, crushing a pill or drinking cough syrup, kids are doing anything they can to get high. They all think they're invincible,” she said. 

"All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunken teenager," Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director of the toxicology bureau for the county public health department and a medical toxicology consultant for Children's Hospital Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. "There is no question that it is dangerous."

Teens who were admitted to the emergency room had symptoms such as slurred speech and a burning sensation in the stomach. Some teens were so drunk they needed to be monitored in the emergency room, the report said.

Doctors also told the Los Angeles Times: “Parents should purchase foam hand sanitizers since they're harder to extract alcohol from compared with gel-based products, and they should monitor hand sanitizer bottles around the house as if they are liquor or medicine bottles.”

About 2,600 cases have been reported in California since 2010, but it has become a national problem, experts report.

Bottom line: Watch your kids and be aware of what you have sitting around the house. You just never know what they could get their hands on.

Steve Stahovich April 30, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Debbie, Thanks for reporting on this. It goes to show how desperate teens are to get an altered state. This proves why parents need to be so vigilant and communicate constantly with their kids about any kind of substance abuse.
Debbie L. Sklar (Editor) May 01, 2012 at 12:35 AM
@Steve: Yes, I agree, these stories are important to local communities for sure.
Allyson May 01, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Debbie, My sister, an alcoholic, died after using hand sanitizer the last two years of her life. It was stronger than anything on the market. She 1st got it in rehab. This is a very dangerous substance. When the coroner called to report her Blood Alcohol level, it was Ethanol level that they reported. This is just pure grain alcohol, Everclear was pulled from the market years ago!! I have tried to get someone to help me get this off market, but no help so far. Any ideas?
MayMom May 02, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Allyson, Sorry to hear about your sister. Being an open and honest parent with your children is a good start but it doesn't always stop them from the peer pressure they are under. Share stories like Allyson's. Keep your kids informed. Experimenting isn't anything new. I see everyday the opportunities these kids have to get into trouble. Our Middle School is next to a park. The kids leave school and head directly to the park and sometimes aren't picked up for an hour. They vandalize and destroy their surroundings. That's alot of unsupervised time - enough to do all kinds of things. We can't just assume that our children would NEVER do that. This is a cheap and easy way to get high/drunk. Don't be afraid to clean out your child's backpack every now and then. If they know you are watching, it'll make it harder for them to hide it. They may be angry at you now, but they will thank you later.
angela barneby May 02, 2012 at 08:25 PM
AV Mom you are so right about that mentality of my kids would never do that .. they are and parents need to be alert.
angela barneby May 02, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Allyson how terrible
Debbie L. Sklar (Editor) May 03, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Hi allyson: Are you local?
Debbie L. Sklar (Editor) May 03, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Parents need to be on high alert 24-7

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