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Teens Drinking Hand Sanitizer To Get Drunk

Last updated on Wednesday, April 25, 2012

(INDIANAPOLIS) - There’s a new warning about a product many of us have in our homes: hand sanitizers.

Several California youngsters who ingested them recently were taken to the hospital .

In the Indianapolis area, four cases of hand sanitizer ingestion have been reported by the Poison Control Center this year alone. Since 2002, they've seen 41 cases statewide.

The prospect of drinking hand sanitizer seems improbable. But James Mowry, director of the Indiana Poison Center, said it happens.

"It tastes pretty bad so to drink it, you have to really want to drink it," he said.

Mowry said he's seen kids drink mouthwash to get drunk. Hand sanitizers are on that list too.

"In adolescents we've seen 13 cases of abusing hand sanitizers, and this year we've seen four whole cases. Three of those were actually in a correctional institute," he said.

Hand sanitizers can contain 62 percent ethyl alcohol. If a person drinks enough, he could feel dizzy and nauseous. He could also lose consciousness, and in the case of very high amounts ingested, a person could actually die from respiratory failure.

"Most hard liquor is 40 percent," Mowry said. "So, luckily, a lot of the bottles are not big enough that people can get a large amount of it. But if they did get a hold of a large bottle, it could be a big problem."

In small amounts, hand sanitizer abuse is fairly easy to treat. A patient would get some fluids with vitamins and would sleep it off. There are no lasting effects.

But Mowry said if a family member has trouble with alcohol, it's worth purchasing other products.

There's another downside to alcohol-based sanitizers: They are flammable.

There are several sanitizers that don't don't contain alcohol. They go by the names of SafeHands, GentleCare and Prefense. They use a product called benzalkonium chloride, which has been on the market for a long time. They are said to be 99.99 percent effective at killing germs.

Mowry suggests foam or non-alcohol based products for families and institutions who want to reduce the risks with alcohol. Soap and water is an obvious alternative as well.

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