Sweden Restricts Hand Sanitizer Sales Due To Teens Consuming It

By McCarton Ackerman 02/29/16
Drinking hand sanitizer has landed an alarming number of young Swedes in the emergency room.
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Sweden Restricts Hand Sanitizer Sales Due To Teens Consuming It
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We'd hoped that drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk was a fad overblown by the media, but it turns out that in Sweden, it became enough of a problem for the police to take action. Swedish authorities have asked pharmacies to restrict the sale of hand sanitizer products after several teenagers recently became severely ill from ingesting the gels.

"Young people were coming into the emergency room with alcohol poisoning and said that they had drunk alcogels," police spokesman Stefan Sund told a local radio station. He said authorities first took notice of the trend on New Year's Eve.

Sund and local news outlets have confirmed that pharmacies in Karlskoga, Degerfors, and Hällefors and the Karlstad area have begun selling hand sanitizers from behind the counter, out of reach for teenagers desperate for a buzz. The practice is apparently becoming increasingly popular among young Swedes as a way to get around the minimum drinking age of 20.

As it turns out, this fad is growing in popularity in the U.S. as well. CNN reported last September that calls to poison control centers for kids under the age of 12 who had ingested hand sanitizer had increased nearly fourfold since 2010—from 3,266 cases to in 2010 to 16,117 in 2014. This is helped by the fact that certain high-alcohol brands of hand sanitizers have 45-95% alcohol content, which can spark alcohol poisoning in as little as two or three squirts. Comparatively, beer typically has 5% alcohol content and wine contains 12%.

"Kids are getting into these products more frequently, and unfortunately, there’s a percentage of them going to the emergency room," Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center, told CNN at the time. "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." 

The problem isn’t just limited to children, however. In January 2014, Pennsylvania hospital employee Lee Ammerman was arrested for stealing 12 cartons of hand sanitizer from UPMC Altoona Hospital. He admitted to enjoying hand sanitizer mixed with orange juice and drinking it as some sort of disgusting Purell-flavored cocktail. Some prison inmates also abuse hand sanitizers in a desperate attempt to get drunk.

The growing issue has even become fodder for late-night comics. In April 2012, Jimmy Kimmel did hand sanitizer shots with John Cusack on his late-night show. 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.