Kids Getting Drunk on Hand Sanitizer: CNN’s Latest Fear

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A bunch of you sent me this CNN piece about the hidden dangers (every TV producer’s favorite kind!) of hand sanitizer. While the video is about teens deliberately drinking the stuff, the written story is about Purell-pickled nippers, and that’s what I’d like to discuss today. It starts with a story that’s almost too strange to be scary:

ATLANTA — Nhaijah Russell’s parents had no idea what was wrong with their daughter when she was rushed to an emergency room from school.

The 6-year-old was slurring her words and was unable to walk.

Doctors soon learned that Russell had swallowed three to four squirts of liquid hand sanitizer at school.

She said that it tasted like strawberries, but she had no idea it contained enough alcohol to make her dangerously drunk.

Since 2010, poison control center hotlines across the United States have seen a nearly 400 percent increase in calls related to children younger than 12 ingesting hand sanitizer, according to new analysis by the Georgia Poison Center.

That is indeed a big increase, though of course percents don’t really matter if we’re talking small numbers to begin with. But the number CNN quotes is actually a rather significant amount:

[Director of the control center Gaylord] Lopez said 3,266 hand sanitizer cases related to young children were reported to poison control centers in 2010. In 2014, the number increased to 16,117 cases.

Perhaps even more significant than the number, however, is the information CNN left out: Do the calls to poison control represent children actually harmed by sanitizer? Or just parents worried that their kids might be harmed? That’s a pretty big question, especially since the number could skyrocket after an article like this (leading to ANOTHER article like this). But CNN seems to treat a call as the equivalent of a medical emergency.

In any event, whether or not moppets are slurping up sanitizer, I’m glad that that the goop is finally getting a second look. I see it everywhere. People de-germ in a way that would have been considered obsessive-compulsive a generation ago. And with all the research into the Hygiene Hypothesis — the idea that we are too clean for our own good — I do hope sanitizers get washed out of our everyday culture.

It’s just too bad it may take a new scare  — tanked tykes — to overtake the old one (germs everywhere/we’re gonna die!!!). – L

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Maybe they shouldn't make gingerale/maraschino cherry flavor?

Now in Ginger Ale/maraschino cherry flavor?

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52 Responses to Kids Getting Drunk on Hand Sanitizer: CNN’s Latest Fear

  1. MichaelF September 16, 2015 at 8:04 am #

    “The 6-year-old was slurring her words and was unable to walk.”

    Sorry even in a 6 year old I’m thinking drunk, probably pushing up the “mystery” of the incident in the story to garner more headlines.

    Since its back to school time, where we have hand sanitizers everywhere, its a perfect time to start running stories about the hidden dangers all around us. I bet in a few weeks we start getting the scare stories about Halloween.

  2. Elin September 16, 2015 at 8:07 am #

    It has happened in my country at preschools that children have drunk hand sanitizer. It was reported in the news and talked about but no freakout.

  3. BL September 16, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Bring back Prohibition, dammit!

  4. trishwah September 16, 2015 at 8:20 am #

    Purell is apparently the mouthwash of our time.

  5. Art September 16, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    as far as the original story, what is this, 2007?

    Now THIS is an outrage. WTF?? These kid needs to sue the everloving fark out of the school district, the cops, everyone involved.

    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/northwest-dallas-county/headlines/20150915-irving-9th-grader-arrested-after-taking-homemade-clock-to-school.ece#commentsDiv

  6. theresa hall September 16, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    art your story is better. I agree. they no proof that it was ever going to be a bomb. they just thought it look like one so therefore it must be. plus 9-11 and he is a Muslim. the clock had nothing that could blow up.

  7. Tim September 16, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    She said she had no idea it contained enough alcohol to make her dangerously drunk? Didn’t she read the fine print?

    @Art, that is seriously outrageous. The police are considering charging him with a crime even though they have no evidence of any crime or intent to commit a crime. I hope that story gets a lot of attention and the police department and school are made to look like the fools they are on a national stage. That’s in addition to the lawsuits.

  8. Wendy W September 16, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    The obsession with hand sanitizer is ridiculous, but it does serve a legitimate function in certain places. I don’t use it as a regular thing, but I’m always happy to see a dispenser in a porta-potty.

  9. brooks September 16, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Ridiculous story, but the fact is that hand sanitizer, or “hanitizer” as my daughter used to call it, should be banned in most places since it is contributing to our loss of immunity. Same with soaps that contain triclosan. But I guess that’s another forum…

  10. lollipoplover September 16, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I think you have bigger problems if your 6 year-old child is attending school and thinks its OK to drink chemicals because they taste like strawberries.

    Do we ban glue next because someone might sniff it?
    (We already have- our schools only use glue sticks now).

  11. LadyTL September 16, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    Hand sanitizer needs to get out of schools and the like and stay where it belongs in hospitals and retail. Retail is because as a cashier I see over 700 people in a week and handle their money and groceries. When someone licks their fingers to handle their money or people coughing on it in line, I want that stuff so that it minimizes my chances of getting myself and others sick (I know it can’t prevent it though)

  12. Emily Morris September 16, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    I still haven’t forgiven my second grade teacher team for including hand sanitizer on the supply list. I have some kids that will bathe in the stuff. For no reason. They will be reading a book or doing a few math problems, and suddenly have the urge to go take a bath in hand sanitizer.

    As for getting drunk on it… are the hand sanitizer eaters the new paste eaters?

  13. Jim Collins September 16, 2015 at 10:15 am #

    I’m in agreement for banning hand sanitizer, but, not for kids drinking it. Hand sanitzer kills about 95% of germs, but, the 5% left over are the strongest germs.

    As far as the kid with the clock goes, I’m pretty sure that it is a clock. I have no doubt that if he wanted to build a bomb, he would have built a bomb.

  14. Art September 16, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Holy Hell, the school’s response is PRICELESS. They fully admitted it there wasn’t any danger.

    http://www.irvingisd.net/cms/lib010/TX01917973/Centricity/Domain/9/ParentLetter_SuspiciousLookingItematMacArthur.pdf?

    Oh, and they also, by virtue of inclusion, banned clocks

    Son. get a lawyer, NOW. You will own that district, and the police department.

  15. lollipoplover September 16, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    @Art-

    The best comment made about the clock bomb:

    “Imagine if this was 30 years ago, and Steve Jobs was arrested for having a ‘bomb-making factory’ in his garage.

    We’d probably not be typing on computers as we know them or even using this website.”

  16. Linda September 16, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    If you don’t have hand sanitizer always at the ready, you risk deadly diseases. If you do, you risk deadly accidental poisoning. What’s a diligent parent to do? I guess carry it with you at all times, under lock and key.
    ===
    By the way, I love your distinction of calls to poison hotline as opposed to actual poisonings. It’s an important detail that most (including me) would have overlooked.

  17. Michelle September 16, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    I’m less in favor of banning hand sanitizer (for above mentioned reasons of overuse and super germs), and more in favor of education. We also need to get people to stop relying on laws instead of their common sense.

  18. Shawn D. September 16, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    This is indeed a real thing. My son knew one kid who could not get alcohol/drugs at his remote alternative school and would dump sweetener packets into a bottle of hand sanitizer and drink it. My son witnessed him do this more than a couple of times.

  19. Warren September 16, 2015 at 12:23 pm #

    Just like with all the detergent pods and such, parents these days do not believe they need to teach their kids not to drink anything that is not an actual beverage. The most disturbing factor of all the calls about possible ingestion, is that there are that many parents with no clue how to teach their kids, wrong from right.

  20. lollipoplover September 16, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    @Michelle- Yes, education (that’s what they go to school for) and common sense versus bans. We are not a hand sanitizer family (though it is good on zits..kills the bacteria and is gentle on the skin), but I am confident my kids won’t go anywhere and drink it. This is a basic self control issue, not a hazmat situation. Are liquid soaps also suspect?

    I did a science day project with my daughter’s 3rd grade class last year where we made flubber. I had one kid (there’s always one!) who ate the flubber. I reminded him that he knew the ingredients- borax, glue, and warm water but made the poor decision to think this was something to eat. Not smart. He was old enough to know this was not something to eat. Self control. Kids behave so much better if we teach it instead of snow plow everything out of their way to avoid encountering it.

  21. Rook September 16, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    I had read once that people who over-use hand sanitizer actually would fail a toxicity test and pass as drunk due to the amount of alcohol being absorbed in their skin.

    As for me, I’m satisfied with an old-fashioned hand washing after handling something like raw chicken or baby poop. I don’t use hand sanitizers because it is one of many chemical smells that make me nauseated or outright sick. In fact, my purifying OCD is more likely to kick in after I have to handle something like Clorox or bleach because that’s when I feel contaminated and sick. To some degree I can’t understand how these kids can actually stomach that crap enough to eat so much of it at once! I’d be down for hours if I ingested that gunk.

    And I agree with the clock-bomb thing. That poor kid will probably never try to be inventive again!

  22. ejcaldera September 16, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Hmm. This is the first year my son’s elementary school stopped asking for liquid hand sanitizer in the school supplies list. Wonder if this sort of thing has anything to do with it.

  23. Diana Green September 16, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    Germs are good for you! Grandma used to say, “You’ll eat a peck of dirt before you’re grown,” Why? Because exposure to anti-bodies is the best preventative medicine. Allergies are more prevalent in families that over-sanitize. Our own bodies, our guts are full of bacteria. They are necessary for good digestion, and good health…

    Wash your hands before you eat. Ditch the chemical.

    Keep all chemical products out of reach of children.

  24. Jim Collins September 16, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    The statement about the use of hand sanitizer increasing a breathalyzer reading is true. Other chemicals including gasoline, naphtha, isopropyl alcohol will influence it as well. A friend of mine is a local cop. We were working on his boat one weekend when we had to stop because he had to do a DUI dog and pony show for some Boy Scouts. I jokingly told him not to blow in the breathalyzer. The next day I get a call from him asking why I told him that? I asked if he did blow into the breathalyzer and he said that he did. I asked “What was the reading?” .140 was his answer. The breathalyzer measures a Methyl Group. Ethyl Alcohol is only one member of that group. A blood alcohol test measures specifically Ethyl Alcohol. I know of two nurses who were charged with DUI because of this. Hospital policy is that you use a hand sanitizer, every time you enter a patient’s room, touch a patient, touch any of the room’s furnishings and when you leave a room. On a 12 hour shift a nurse can use a sanitizer hundreds of times. A little of the alcohol is absorbed through the skin and is out gassed by your breath.

  25. Coasterfreak September 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

    “People de-germ in a way that would have been considered obsessive-compulsive a generation ago.”

    No kidding. I was in a restaurant a couple of years ago and a family – mom, dad, two young kids – came to a table near us. Before anybody sat down, mom whipped out some Clorox wipes and wiped down the table and chairs. After they sat down, mom whipped out a bottle of Purell and they proceeded to pass it around and sanitize their hands. Three times. There was another round of hand sanitizing after the meal. I thought it was odd that they didn’t take the kids to the bathroom to wash their hands instead of wiping them clean with napkins and then using sanitizer.

    Granted, there’s always the chance that there’s some reason that they HAVE to be that vigilant, but I figure the chances are greater that they’re just germaphobes. I wonder if they realize they’re actually opening themselves up to a greater chance of getting sick because they don’t come in contact with enough germs to build up their immune system. The problem with people like that is they sanitize and sanitize, and still get sick because they have no immunity built up, but they figure the problem is they’re not sanitizing good enough. So they become ever more vigilant, which continues to work against them.

  26. lollipoplover September 16, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    What happened is that some schools tried to speed up the short lunch breaks(my kids only get 30 minutes to eat) and don’t actually encourage hand washing before snacks and lunch. Instead, they tell the kids to use hand sanitizer. Our cafeteria has a wall-mounted one the kids could use when entering the cafeteria to skip a trip to the bathroom and not miss time from lunch.

    Personally, I encourage my kids to always wash hands after the bathroom and before meals. Do I know if they actually do it at school? Absolutely not…but they don’t use hand sanitzer and I never sent it in when they requested it for school supplies. Soap and water are just fine.

    Purell is just the new cinnamon. Remember when we heard about the dangerous spice, Cinnamon, lurking in our spice cabinet? Gosh, without that delicous cinnamon, I don’t think my kids would have touched zucchini bread or baked apples. Keeping everything under lock and key only makes it more tempting, in my opinion.

  27. John September 16, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    Why on earth would a kid as old as 11-years-old drink hand sanitizer?? In my whole life I don’t know of a single 10- or 11-year-old kid OR a 5-year-old for that matter, who would do that. BUT if this is the data they show, then obviously there are kids who do drink hand sanitizer. I guess the strawberry or apple smell of the stuff was too enticing for them. I’m just wondering when the huge lawsuit and mass firing of school personnel will occur because they didn’t prevent it when they could have went right into the bathroom with those kids and stood and watched them go to the bathroom and then closely watched them wash their hands, like they should have!

  28. Havva September 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    @Rook, I think Ahmed will find the encouragement to continue to build and tinker. He already has invites to online maker communities, Google, JPL, and an invite to see the Mars Rover. With good reason too. My intro electrical engineering lab in college had a project where we wired up a 7 segment display. Took a bit of doing and I remember thinking how much work it would be to make a clock from scratch. I’m impressed with him, and it sounds like a lot of other engineers are too.

    Another great quote from the article talking about the support Ahmed has gotten…”Permission culture punishes us not for crossing boundaries or causing damage, but for acting “without authorization”—and it cranks up the penalties to make sure we get the message.” Too true.
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/09/16/ahmed_mohamed_s_arrest_shows_fear_of_curiosity_and_the_homemade.html

  29. Jason Harrison September 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Which sanitizer tastes good? Purell tastes bad, a reminder to wash your hands before eating, as eating almost anything with your hands after using it results in a very bitter taste.

  30. Resident Iconoclast September 16, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

    It’s been the same for 5,000 years. At least I sure remember this from decades ago when I was a kid. The adults obsess about some little thing, like a few kids desperate enough to sip hand sanitizer–they’re welcome to it as I think they’ll only do it once.

    Meanwhile, the adults were/are oblivious to what we really were doing. For example, we could skip the Purell and go out in the parking lot and buy some pot. Or maybe just get some booze.

    Ask your kid tonight, “Hey honey, have you tried drinking Purell yet?”

    If you have any kind of rapport with your kid, the answer might be, “…pot’s way better.”

  31. Emily Morris September 16, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    lollipoplover, my students actually hear my speech about hand sanitizer every year! I’m not wholy against it and I have it in the classroom for using post-tissue, but I’m otherwise a big believer in soap and water. Especially with younger kids. I don’t fear they’ll eat it, but I do think proper handwashing is an important skill that is getting erased because of hand sanitizer!

  32. Tim September 16, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    @ Havva, That is an interesting quote. An extreme version of this thinking would be “That which is not expressly permitted, is forbidden.”

    Just the link to the Slate article is scary: “fear_of_curiosity_and_the_homemade.” That pretty much sums it up when the cops were trying to find a “broader explanation” for why a science student would tinker with electronics. Because it’s normal? Did they not have Heath Kits at home growing up or ever go to Radio Shack when it was filled with electronic parts? Probably not. The things we have to fight for.

  33. BL September 16, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    “Did they not have Heath Kits at home growing up or ever go to Radio Shack when it was filled with electronic parts? Probably not. The things we have to fight for.”

    Good God, I was into model rocketry at that age. Yes, the ones that fly with solid-fuel engines that are ignited electronically. I wonder what these gestapo operatives would think of that -probably that I was initiating an ICBM attack. We even had a model rocket club at school.

  34. Jill September 16, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

    What’s wrong with kids today? Is sniffing airplane glue not good enough for them? It was good enough for the Greatest Generation, dang it!

  35. Jill September 16, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    I was referring to model airplane glue. Kids probably don’t even build model airplanes anymore, dang lazy kids.

  36. Rook September 16, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    @ Havva:
    I’m glad he has all those offers. I know personally how much fun is derived from puzzles and creating things. It’s good he has people willing to provide a safe environment for him to tinker to his heart’s content without being arrested for it. 🙂

  37. Donald September 16, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    SEX SELLS. Well actually not so much anymore. It still does but it’s no longer the king. Times have changes. Now the undisputed king is, FEAR SELLS.

  38. Anna September 16, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    “My son knew one kid who could not get alcohol/drugs at his remote alternative school and would dump sweetener packets into a bottle of hand sanitizer and drink it. My son witnessed him do this more than a couple of times.” Hmm. . . sounds like a kid who might have bigger problems than the availability of hand sanitizer.

    But personally, I hope this hand sanitizer craze dies before my son starts school. I’ve known preschool and primary grade teachers who make frequent use of it virtually mandatory for their students, and my son has such terrible chronic eczema that such continual exposure to rubbing alcohol would literally wear holes through his skin.

  39. lollipoplover September 16, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

    “A kid is not thinking this is bad for them,” Lopez said. “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.”

    What kid thinks it’s good to ingest chemicals???
    This is a child you need to have a good talk with about making poor choices.
    Please give kids a little credit. My kid has Mr. Sketch magic markers that are scented in delicious flavors that she’s not eating. Because they’re markers. Candles come in appealing flavors too but my kid isn’t eating wax either (but they do make finger molds in the cooling wax after I blow the candle out…drives me crazy!)

  40. BL September 16, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    “What kid thinks it’s good to ingest chemicals???”

    A kids who’s known nothing but a world in which all unsafe things are supposedly banned, safety-deviced, or hidden away.

  41. Peter September 16, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

    The 6-year-old was slurring her words and was unable to walk. […] it contained enough alcohol to make her dangerously drunk.

    Okay, wait a minute. What is “dangerously drunk”?

    I mean, I’ve been drunk. I’ve slurred my words and had trouble walking. When I was young, I would wake up the next morning just fine. Nowadays, of course, I’d wake up with a horrible hangover, which is why I don’t drink as much as I used to. But that’s another story.

    If I remember right, “dangerously drunk” is when you pass out and people start worrying about alcohol poisoning. That’s dangerously drunk. “Drunk” is when you slur your words and have trouble walking.

  42. Jenny Islander September 16, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    Police admitted that Ahmed Mohammed, who had never been in trouble with the cops before, was already known to them. This may or may not be because his father, without committing any crimes, has stood up and said that Quran burning as a ritual of Christian/American identity is wrong–and has also run for public office IIRC.

    IOW, his family, without having committed any crimes, was being monitored as potential troublemakers because brown and Muslim = terrorist.

    Also they kept trying to get Ahmed to make a “broader” statement about the clock he brought to school–that is, a statement other than “I made a clock.”

    Because attempting to bully the underage son of someone who has spoken out against symbolic attacks on his religion* into admitting a crime that doesn’t even exist while you have a gun on your hip is totally the way to protect our safety. *nodnod*

    *In, gosh, a country that has freedom of religious belief.

  43. lollipoplover September 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    @Peter-

    I’m pretty sure most of these folks would fit the definition of “dangerously drunk”.

    http://funnyasduck.net/post/28737

  44. Havva September 16, 2015 at 11:32 pm #

    @Peter, yahoo had an article talking about what sounded like the same kid, that said she had a BAC of 0.179. Would be dangerous if she were driving. Of course a sober 6 year old driving is likely to be dangerous too.

  45. Reader September 17, 2015 at 2:24 am #

    Hand sanitiser as a substitute for handwashing, in scenarios where handwashing isn´t possible (e.g. a portapotty) isn’t a bad idea – often it’s a lot easier to put in hand sanitiser than to either install plumbing or have water and soap brought in regularly. However, there’s actually no reason to wash your hands and then use hand sanitiser (though as a retail worker who works with cash, I sometimes do this between a shift and eating just to be sure), and especially no reason to use antibacterial SOAP, as when you are using soap and water, the antiseptic property has no benefit over regular soap.

  46. Donald September 17, 2015 at 3:57 am #

    Fear sells. It’s now the king. Sex sells but it’s not the king anymore.

    However it’s funny to see the crazy examples of how companies would link their product to sex. My favorite was a satire that I saw on The Flintstones.

    There was an advert on tv with a person sneezing. He then took some sneezing medication and stopped sneezing. A girl instantly appeared, threw her arms around him and said, “I Love A Man That Doesn’t Sneeze!”

    The Fear sales tag is doing the same thing. The news will do anything it takes to link fear with their story.
    Companies also do whatever it takes to link their product to Safety. America has become the land of solutions. We have solutions without problems crammed down our throats so often that it’s become the norm.

  47. Kimberly September 17, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    I find it “amusing” that parents are so worried about introducing potentially toxic chemicals to their kids that they opt for the non-toxic and “healthier” Purell version of a hand-sanitizer which actually creates an even larger health issue.

    The idea of this kid drinking the sanitizer because it tasted like strawberries is no different than a kid getting into their parent’s liquor cabinet and drinking the chocolate flavored liqueur or, in my case, my nephew getting loaded on the pitcher of vodka and orange juice that I’d left in the fridge while my parents and sister were out of town (oops. My sister still brings that up on occasion).

    This situation isn’t the same as glue sniffing or huffing. This kid was affected by the ethyl alcohol that Purell uses. Huffers get high because the oxygen in their body is displaced by the chemicals in whatever it is they’re huffing.

  48. BDK September 17, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

    Why would a kid drink hand sanitizer in the first place? I wouldn’t think it would taste good in the first place. I have to try some when I get home, I ran out if beer.

  49. hineata September 18, 2015 at 2:06 am #

    I was going to ask what kind of stupid kid would drink hand sanitizer, but then I remembered that I used to regularly chew on the wooden rulers that were standard issue way back when. ….

    Darn they tasted good. So salty. No doubt filled with arsenic or some other nonsense we shouldn’t be sucking on, but what the heck. So bring on the sanitizer, kids…..in small amounts :-). If you realllly like the taste.

  50. Tara September 18, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    So, maybe slow down the school day, teach reading, writing and ‘rithmatic and give the kids time to actually use soap and water!

  51. bmommyx2 September 20, 2015 at 6:06 am #

    Personally I don’t get the fascination with this stuff. It’s a poor substitute for handwashing. I use a more natural non-alcohol (alcohol is drying to the skin) one, but only if I can’t get to a sink. I hate that they offer is as kids classes or at school. I take my kids to the bathroom to wash.

  52. chip September 20, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    There are a lot of people in the comments wondering why the kids drink the sanitizer in the first place. I’m a substitute teacher, so I work with kids of a variety of ages. 5, 6, 7 year olds will drink it because they’re curious. They know they’re not supposed to, but they also know that there are a lot of arbitrary rules and a lot of “when you’re older” rules (in addition to common sense/safety/forever rules), and they don’t always know which category a rule falls in to. Older kids will do it because they’re showing off or because they were dared to. I knew a 6th grader who drank whiteboard cleaner for a dollar. (The school was overcrowded, so the 6th graders ate lunch in their classrooms with one paraeducator supervising 4 classrooms from the pod. The class in question lost that privilege.)