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Teens Get Hammered on Hand Sanitizer

Underage drinkers distill their own liquor from household products, landing some in the ER.

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By Bryan Le

04/24/12

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Hand sanitizer apparently tastes like "vodka and bugspray," which hardly seems like an alluring cocktail. But it is the poison-of-choice for a growing number of teens. Most recently, six LA teens drank enough hand sanitizer to land themselves in the hospital, leaving officials worried that the drink is becoming trendy again. Using instructions easily found on the web—there's even a handy e-how!—teens are distilling liquid hand sanitizer with salt and cheese cloths to make cheap, accessible 120-proof hard liquor. "It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get a shot of essentially hard liquor," says Cyrus Rangan, director of the toxicology bureau for the county public health department. Just a few shots of the concoction can land a person in the emergency room. Worse, some sanitizers are made with isopropyl alcohol, which can be fatal if consumed. The trend causes flashbacks for experts like Helen Arbogast, injury prevention coordinator in the trauma program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, who has seen teens put away mouthwash, vanilla extract and, most famously, cough syrup (see: purple drank) to get drunk. “Cough syrup had reached a very sexy point where young people were using it... We want to be sure this doesn't take on the same trend,” she says. She advises parents to buy foaming hand sanitizer instead of the gel ones because foam is much harder to distill.

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