In a growing trend across the United States, parents, teachers and doctors are witnessing more and more children becoming drunk after ingesting just a few squirts of regular, over-the-counter hand sanitizer.
In 2012, reports surfaced that several teenagers had been admitted to a California emergency room after they purposely ingested hand sanitizers as a means of getting drunk. In fact, teens were going so far as to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer by adding salt. The directions for distilling hand sanitizer were found on the Internet.
While it did not appear that consumption of hand sanitizer was a trend back then, it appears to be the case now – most often by unsuspecting young children
Since 2010, poison control hotlines across the nation have received a nearly 400% increase in telephone calls related to children younger than 12 years old ingesting hand sanitizer. Dr. Gaylord Lopez, the director of the Georgia Poison Center, observed that, “Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there’s a percentage of them going to the emergency room.”
Surprisingly, compared to wine and beer which contain 12% and 5% of alcohol respectively, hand sanitizer contains between 45% to 95%. Ingesting even a few squirts of the liquid can result in alcohol poisoning.
Just recently, six-year-old Nhaijah Russell swallowed about three or four squirts of strawberry-flavored hand sanitizer while at school in Georgia. While it tasted good, it made her dangerously drunk.
She was rushed to an Atlanta emergency room while slurring her words and unable to walk. After doctors completed some tests, they determined that Nhaijah’s blood alcohol level was .179 – twice the limit of what constitutes legally drunk in an adult. Since Nhaijah’s condition caused her to fall and hit her head, she stayed at the hospital overnight for observation.
Nhaijah’s mother, Ortoria Scott, stated that the incident was “ . . . very scary. it could have been very lethal for my child.”
Lopez relayed some scary statistics. She stated that 2010, 3,266 hand sanitizer cases involving young children were reported to poison control centers. In 2014, the number increased 16,117 cases.
Lopez points out that more often than not, the children do not know they are getting themselves drunk. “A kid is not thinking this is bad for them. A lot of the more attractive [hand sanitizers] are the ones that are scented. There are strawberry, grape, orange-flavored hand sanitizers that are very appealing to kids.”
Lopez stresses that teachers and parents should store hand sanitizers out of reach of children and carefully monitor its use. She also points out that there are non-alcohol based products and sanitizing wipes that can be used.