There’s a dangerous new trend among teens on the rise. According to published reports, as many as six California teenagers were recently hospitalized with alcohol poisoning after they got drunk off hand sanitizer.
What is supposed to be used to clean and disinfect your hands is now being used to in replace of liquor, which is usually hard for teenagers to get, since the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21.
Hand sanitizer, on the other hand, is available for purchase at just about anywhere, and a bored teenager can actually use it — along with a few simple instructions online — to get drunk.
“A few swallows is all it takes to get a person to get the intoxicated effects of alcohol,” Dr. Cyrus Rangan, medical toxicology consultant for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said in a news conference on Tuesday (Apr 24). “There is no question that it is dangerous.”
In six totally unrelated incidents in the past month alone, teenagers were rushed to emergency rooms in California with symptoms such as slurred speech and burning sensations in the stomach.
Some teens were reportedly so drunk that they needed to be monitored in the emergency room overnight.
According to ABC News, about 2,600 different cases have been reported in California since 2010, but public health officials say that there are many other cases across the country.
“This is a rapidly emerging trend,” Dr. Rangan said, adding that long-term use could lead to brain, liver and kidney damage.
“It’s not just localized to us,” said Helen Arbogast from the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. “Since 2009 we can see on YouTube it’s in all regions of the country. We see it in the South, in the Midwest, in the East.”
The Los Angeles Times reports that using instructions online, some of the teenagers used salt to separate the alcohol from liquid hand sanitizer, which contains about 62-65 percent ethyl alcohol (or ethanol) the main ingredient in beer, wine and liquor.
The alcohol extracted from household hand sanitizer is 120 proof, in comparison to a bottle of vodka, which is 80 proof.
“Methods to distill it can be found through friends and the Internet, but straight ingestion of the product without distillation is also common,” Dr. Rangan said.
Dr. Sean Nordt, director of toxicology at the USC Los Angeles County Emergency Department said that he hopes parents and store clerks will keep an eye on who they’re selling hand sanitizer to.
“”Most stores will sell it to an adolescent without thinking twice,” Nordt told ABC News. “Maybe now they will.”
This new trend of youngsters drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk is being compared to drinking cough syrup to get a buzz, which is highly celebrated in rap culture.