The Grapevine

US Poison Control Sees 4-Fold Increase In Cases Of Teens Drinking Hand Sanitizer, But It May Be Worse In Sweden

Hand Sanitizer
Swedish teens are getting drunk on hand sanitizer. Flickr

With laws prohibiting minors from legally purchasing alcoholic beverages, many teens are finding creative ways to get a buzz from products they can find right at home. In fact, since 2010, U.S. poison control centers have seen a nearly four-fold increase in calls related to minors ingesting hand sanitizer as a way to get drunk. And according to Vice, this may be an even bigger problem in Sweden.

Vice reported that this disturbing trend has forced Swedish pharmacists to remove hand sanitizers from store shelves and "restrict it to behind-the-counter sales." Apparently, police officers first asked pharmacists in the Värmland region to do so after they noticed an uptick in teens getting sick from alcohol-based products. Several emergency calls made on New Years Eve involved people under the age of 20 — the legal age to purchase alcohol in Sweden  —  who said that they had drunk "alcogels," a police spokesman told The Local.

However, Vice anticipates it's going to be difficult for pharmacists to gauge whether or not customers purchasing hand sanitizers from behind the counter are using it to clean their hands or for recreational purposes, especially now that it's cold and flu season — a time when "hand wash sales are through the roof."

The trend originated in neither the U.S. nor Sweden but in New Zealand, with the help of social broadcasting channels like YouTube, CNN reported. Swedish police officials told public broadcaster Swedish Radio that there are videos of teens are mixing hand sanitizers with orange juice to essentially make knock-off screwdrivers.

It's commonly known that alcohol can kill germs, which is why it’s present in many popular hygiene and cleaning products; beyond hand sanitizer, a product that contains 60 percent alcohol, it can be found in mouthwash and even Windex. Drinking just two to three squirts of the stuff can cause alcohol poisoning, according to CNN. In comparison, alcohol products intended for consumption, such as wine and beer, can contain between 5 and 12 percent alcohol. This means drinking just a small amount of hand sanitizer can result in alcohol poisoning.

A serious and deadly consequence of alcohol consumption, alcohol poisoning occurs when drinkers consume large quantities of alcohol during a short period of time. While the condition can be managed with rest and hydration, severe cases of alcohol poisoning can disable "critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate and body temperature," resulting in coma or death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although alcohol poisoning deaths are more common among middle-aged adults, teens aren't as familiar with the dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol, thus they may be the most at risk.

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