Your Kids Probably Aren't Getting Drunk on Hand Sanitizer

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The very latest development in the media's ongoing obsession with spurious trend stories about kids getting drunk in weird ways comes via the Los Angeles Times, and it involves some kids who got drunk on hand sanitizer. Per the Times' Anna Gorman:

Six teenagers have shown up in two San Fernando Valley emergency rooms in the last few months with alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizer, worrying public health officials who say the cases could signal a dangerous trend.

Some of the teenagers used salt to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer, making a potent drink that is similar to a shot of hard liquor.

Parents, hide your Purell! The Times reported the news Tuesday morning and already it's gotten wide pick-up in national media outlets. CBS News has even declared that this "may be a fast-growing dangerous trend." (To their great credit, the Times resisted the urge to make such a prediction, but they did go with calling it "a troubling trend." Also, lest you get any ideas, drinking hand sanitizer is a stunningly dumb idea, for a variety of reasons laid out by the Times.)

More sober writers, Jack Shafer the most entertaining among them, have noted before (as have we) that these kinds of stories (kids! alcohol!) take a new form every few months -- a new secret, often sensational and extremely painful-sounding way kids are drinking -- but rarely do these stories back up their panic with evidence of a widespread trend. Some of our favorite ways kids are (not) getting drunk include: vodka-soaked gummy bears, vodka-soaked tampons, and vodka ingested through the eyeball. (Hard to believe that "trend" didn't catch on among our youth!) In fact, none of these seems to have become the go-to method for teens looking for a buzz since they were first reported.

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The CBS story cites only the six kids in California plus "some teens who had ingested hand sanitizers at school as a 'dare,' only to come to the ER with dizziness, nausea, and vomiting." So ... six kids did it on purpose (probably), and a few more did it by accident. The New York Daily News cites some YouTube videos in which kids drink the hand sanitizer, too. But all of these stories have clues for parents suspicious that their child's bedside Purell might be there because he wants to disinfect his hand:

  • "Dr. Young-jin Sue, a pediatric toxicologist at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, said that she hasn’t seen any cases of teens coming into the ER after overdosing on the alcohol-rich gel,": the New York Daily News reports.
  • "A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Health told HealthPop there was no official city-wide warning or statement at this time," says CBS
  • "Although there's only been a few cases, county public health toxicology expert Cyrus Rangan says it could signal a dangerous trend," reports USA Today.

Only a few cases? Did you know that in 2010, the CDC found that 42 percent of high school students had drunk alcohol in the past 30 days? With that many teens looking to drink, wouldn't emergency room doctors see far more cases if this were a nationwide trend? We'd venture a guess the vast majority of underage drinkers are relying on time-tested methods: beer and liquor. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.