More Kids Getting Alcohol Poisoning From Consuming Hand Sanitizer

By McCarton Ackerman 09/17/15

While beer and wine contain low levels of alcohol, hand sanitizer can be up to 95%.

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Poison control centers across the country have been receiving more calls for alcohol poisoning in children under age 12, but the cause is an unlikely culprit in the form of hand sanitizer.

CNN reported that calls to poison control centers for kids under the age of 12 ingesting hand sanitizer have increased nearly five-fold since 2010, from 3,266 in 2010 to 16,117 last year. While beer typically contains 5% alcohol and wine contains 12%, hand sanitizer has alcohol content ranging from 45-95%. Certain high-alcohol brands of hand sanitizer can spark alcohol poisoning in as little as two to three squirts.

"Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there’s a percentage of them going to the emergency room,” said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center. “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 also noted that some of the ingestion of these products is not always from toddlers unknowing of the dangers of swallowing it. He noted that some pre-teens are consuming the hand sanitizer to get drunk or doing it on a dare. Although there are no reported deaths from ingesting hand sanitizer, the ethyl alcohol in these products is toxic.

The problem isn’t limited to children. In January 2014, Pennsylvania hospital employee Lee Ammerman, 51, was arrested for stealing 12 cartons of hand sanitizer from UPMC Altoona Hospital, which he admitted to mixing with orange juice and drinking it. Prison inmates often consume hand sanitizer in a desperate attempt to get drunk.

In April 2012, Jimmy Kimmel did hand sanitizer shots on his late-night show with John Cusack. He joked that "I feel cleaner inside. And I also feel like I'm going to die."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.