Drug trends are just getting weirder and weirder. According to the LA Times, six teens in Los Angeles were hospitalized over the past few months after consuming inexpensive liquid hand sanitizers. Because the sanitizers contain 62% ethyl alcohol, the teenagers were able to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer (with help, of course, from the Internet) to create a 120-proof liquor, one and a half times as strong as commercial vodka. Hand sanitizer is cheap and accessible, so it’s easy to find distillation instructions online. A few shots of the liquor can cause slurred speech and a burning stomach. It can also get teenagers so drunk that they land in the hospital.
This troubling practice is just one in a series of over-the-counter products that teenagers have adapted to get drunk or high. They have done the same with mouthwash, cough syrup, nutmeg and even vanilla extract. Other substances like “bath salts” or synthetic marijuana (“K2”) were legal, but medical emergencies have caused lawmakers to reconsider whether they should be accessible, especially when teenagers seem to consider them on par with marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs that are considerably more difficult for teens to obtain.
Officials suggest that concerned parents buy foaming hand sanitizer, because it is more difficult to extract the alcohol. Others recommend that parents monitor hand sanitizer like liquor or medicine, and watch for signs of intoxication in their children; since it is legal for children to buy hand sanitizer on their own, though, it is unclear how much good this would do.
But these are band-aids for a much larger problem. The issue isn’t that parents are carelessly leaving a potential drug around the house. Instead, it signals broader failures in drug education. Like abstinence-only sex education curriculums, abstinence-based drug education programs do not inform students of the relative dangers of different drugs. Alcohol is ranked alongside distilled hand sanitizer, which is presented as equally threatening as marijuana, which if you try it once will certainly be a gateway to heroin addiction. Of course, these drugs are all dangerous, but when we can’t speak candidly to youth about the relative dangers of different drugs, it ends in confusion and, unfortunately in this case, several trips to the hospital.
Photo Credit: Sean Narvasa