Poison control centers educate public on hand sanitizer consumption

Poison control centers across the US are monitoring a recent increase in the trend of teenagers getting drunk by consuming hand sanitizer. In an effort to educate the public about the trend’s detrimental effects, these centers will be publicizing preventative methods, according to James Mowry, director of Indiana Poison Center.

“We are going to keep a close watch on this trend,” said Mowry. “We will be posting information on our Facebook page so our public will be aware of what could happen.”

Sixteen cases have been reported in California since March 1, according to the California Poison Control System. This amount raises California’s total to 60 cases reported since 2010.

Since the system “only receives the reported cases,” said Stuart E. Heard, executive director at CPCS, “… we suspect there are much more that go unreported.’

Ingesting the product can cause severe internal damage. The US Food and Drug Administration considers hand sanitizer a drug because the active ingredient in the product is alcohol. Low numbers of reported cases will not stop poison control centers from educating the public on the trend’s harmful effects, according to Mowry.

Hand sanitizer contains 62 percent ethyl alcohol and, when ingested, produces the same effects of consuming a 120-proof alcoholic beverage or 50 percent more alcohol than hard liquor, according to Mowry. These effects range from dizziness to slurred speech. Ingesting the product can also lead to severe internal damage including alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning symptoms include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, blue-tinged or pale skin, low body temperature, and unconsciousness, according to a report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“Teens may ingest hand sanitizer recreationally, and one or two swallows could get a child visibly drunk. The larger the bottle, the greater the potential for poisoning,” said Cyrus Rangan, a medical toxicology consultant at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and an assistant medical director at CPCS.

Teenagers learn how to extract the alcohol from the product through various sources, like YouTube tutorials. A common method of distilling hand sanitizer involves using salt to isolate the alcohol. Other teens boil the product to separate the ethanol.

“Methods to distill it can be found through friends and the Internet, but straight ingestion of the product without distillation is also common,” said Rangan. Another concern with this trend is the product’s availability. ‘Hand sanitizer is readily available,’ said Heard. ‘Teens can buy it anywhere.’

Officials suggest parents keep hand sanitizer out of children’s sight and reach. Also, purchasing hand sanitizer in foam form instead of gel makes drinking the substance less appealing. However, education is critical. ‘The main preventative focus should be education,’ said Heard. ‘Teens need to thoroughly understand the effects of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time.’

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