Yesterday I thought of hand sanitizer as a quick alternative to washing my hands. Today, after reading and seeing countless news stories about teens drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk, I have to say I look at it and say “ewww gross”.
Here is the story. The California Poison Control saw 16 cases of teens becoming ill after drinking hand sanitizer in the months of March and April. This was an irregular increase and they learned the same was true in other parts of the country. This finding led to Poison Control alerting the news of this new dangerous trend and now everyone from USA Today, NPR, The Cristian Science Monitor and Jimmy Kimmel have written or spoken about it in the last 24hrs.
I wanted to get some perspective on this so I asked over 50 teens from across the country, about 25 adults who work with teens and one social service agency who participates in a drug and alcohol coalition. What I found is that none of the teens had even heard of teens drinking hand sanitizer until they saw it on the news. Most thought is was ridiculous and gross (Awesome). I found two adults who work with teens from different parts of the country who had heard of teens drinking hand sanitizer. And the local Social Service agency had not seen or heard of it until today on the news.
I agree with poison control and doctors that teens drinking hand sanitizer is dangerous. As youth workers and parents it is good know about the possibilities of teens getting drunk from a now common product that is in most youth facilities. But I also feel that the massive news around this has just alerted many teens to an option that they may have not even considered before. I am willing to bet that there are teens who are Googling and looking on YouTube to figure out if there is a way to separate the alcohol out of the sanitizer so they can drink it. Which in essence may cause this new trend to spike even more.
So what can we do?
Youth Workers and Parents:
- Be vigilante. ANY time you see a youth you work with or your child acting odd or unusual, talk to them and find out what is going on. They may be drunk on hand sanitizer, be engaged in another drug or just having a really bad day.
- Monitor what they are doing on the internet. If your computers are set up properly you should be able to walk by and see what teens are viewing. If you see them checking out “How To” videos that look odd or you see videos of teens drinking hand sanitizer, talk to those teens. Another good tip is if they minimize the screen real quick. Usually means they don’t want you to see what they are looking at.
- Share the dangers of such activities with teens. Talk to them about the harm they can be doing to their body.
- Switch to foam based hand sanitizer. This was one recommendation from the California poison Control.