Teens' New Cheap Buzz: Hand Sanitizer

Gel version can be easily distilled
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2012 11:43 AM CDT
Updated Apr 29, 2012 8:52 AM CDT
Teens' New Cheap Buzz: Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is shown at Texas Star Pharmacy in Plano, Texas, Wednesday, April 29, 2009.   (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)

Apparently hand sanitizer is the new cough syrup, with teens increasingly chugging the stuff in an effort to get drunk. In California's San Fernando Valley in recent months, six teenagers have come to the ER with alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizer—some of them separated the alcohol from the sanitizer using salt, to create something like hard liquor. "All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunk teenager," a toxicology expert tells the Los Angeles Times.

So far the problem isn't a huge one, but he fears it could get worse since hand sanitizer is so cheap and easy to procure—and it's also easy for teens to learn how to distill it. The liquid—62% ethyl alcohol—ends up making a 120-proof drink, and just a few drinks can send kids to the hospital. "It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get a shot of essentially hard liquor," the expert says. Adds another, "Over the years, they have ingested all sorts of things," including the aforementioned cough syrup, mouthwash, and vanilla extract. Meanwhile, parents are advised to buy foam, not gel, if they need hand sanitizer. (More hand sanitizer stories.)

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