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Alcoholism & Addiction

Teens Chugging Hand Sanitizers — Which Can Became 120-Proof Shot of Liquor

A few teenagers have shown up in California emergency rooms after consuming hand sanitizers in an effort to get drunk. What concerns officials is that it may be the beginning of a trend. There were zero cases like this last year, and there have been six so far just in the San Fernando Valley in the first four months of 2012.

"There is no question that it is dangerous," said Cyrus Rangan, director of the Toxicology Bureau for the county public health department and a medical toxicology consultant for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. "All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunk teenager. It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get the shot of essentially hard liquor."

Hand sanitizer is a 120-proof alcohol liquid, in that it consists of 62% ethyl alcohol. A little bottle of hand sanitizer can cost less than a dollar, and the product is widely sold in many kinds of stores. Internet websites provide information about how to distill alcohol from the sanitizer, a process that involves using salt. Just a few drinks can cause most people to get drunk, and the teens that showed up in the emergency rooms needed to be monitored for alcohol poisoning.

Teenagers notoriously look for legal substances that can make them high. In the past, they have used over-the-counter cough medicines, mouthwashes, and even vanilla extract as substitutes for liquor. They also sniff common household products like glue, gasoline, cleaning fluid, and so forth. A more recent trend is snorting or injecting bath salts, or mixing them with food to achieve a brief, altered mental state. Thousands of teenagers have been treated in emergency rooms after injecting bath salts and experiencing symptoms such as agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, and suicidal ideation. The Drug Enforcement Agency has taken steps to control the use, possession, and sale of bath salts.

California officials are advising parents to buy hand sanitizers in foam or gel form because those forms make it harder for teenagers to convert the substance into a drink.

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