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.