After six teens in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizer, health officials are now concerned that the cases could be a sign to a dangerous trend.
The L.A. Times reports that some of the teenagers used salt to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer, making it similar to that of a shot of hard liquor.
"All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunk teenager," 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. "There is no question that it is dangerous."
There are already YouTube videos of teens taking shots, or squirts, of the liquid as doctors fear that the trend can grow fast since bottles of hand sanitizer are inexpensive and accessible, let alone teens can find distillation instructions online.
"It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get a shot of essentially hard liquor," Rangan said.
Liquid sanitizer is 120-proof liquid (62% ethyl alcohol) and just a few drinks can slur a person's speech and caue their stomach to burn. Just a small amount can make someone so drunk that they have to be monitored in the emergency room.
In the past, teens have found a quick high through mouthwash, cough syrup, even vanilla extract.
"Over the years, they have ingested all sorts of things," said Helen Arbogast, injury prevention coordinator in the trauma program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "Cough syrup had reached a very sexy point where young people were using it.... We want to be sure this doesn't take on the same trend."
Doctors say that there were no such cases last year, thus catching them off guard when the first few cases came in. These incidents also raised concerns about the lack of awareness among parents of the risks of hand sanitizer since even the small pocket-sized bottles contain highly concentrated alcohol.
Medical experts advise that parents should buy the foam version of the hand sanitizer, not the gel, since the foam version is more difficult to separate.