Daily Archives: 21/10/2015

Drinkers ‘raided London hospitals for alcohol-based hand gel’

This news piece was covered by the BBC in  September and was reporting on how drinkers were raiding London hospitals and stealing the alcohol-based hand gel to drink.

hand-sanitizer

 

 

 

A man who nearly died from drinking hand gel containing alcohol, has detailed how he was part of a group which systematically raided London hospitals for a drink.

Bartek, 30, who has received treatment in his native Poland, lost 1.5 litres of blood in a haemorrhage caused by his habit.

Meanwhile, Freedom of Information requests revealed dozens of reports of thefts across seven hospitals.

Experts warn that there are serious health risks involved.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34120395

This isn’t news to me as the ward where I used to work had to get locked cabinets for hand gel when patients were found drinking it.

If you carry one of these be very careful of them around small children who like looking through your bag contents.  This substance is exceptionally toxic and there are some stories of its impact on young children here.

Here’s a bit more about alcohol hand gels:

A typical 240 ml container of hand sanitizer gel contains comparable alcohol to 5 shots of hard liquor. It’s hard to say when drinking hand sanitizer came into vogue, but reports of its use as an intoxicant with prison inmates started surfacing around 2009. (The one I have for work has 85g Ethanol in 60mls)

Recent trends, mainly practiced by teens, include mixing hand sanitizer with Listerine to make a strong minty cocktail, mixing the gel with salt to separate the alcohol from the gel and distilling the alcohol from hand sanitizer. 

Drinking the resulting cocktail is called ‘hand sanitrippin’, getting a hand sanity fix, getting drunk on Mr. Clean’s Tears or getting hand sanitized’.

Chemical Composition of Hand Sanitizer

The problem here is that there are different types of alcohol that may be used as the disinfectant in hand sanitizer and only one of them isn’t deadly poisonous! Methanol is not used in hand sanitizer because it is toxic and is absorbed through skin.

Hand sanitizer containing isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is used in hand sanitizer. While it is not absorbed through the skin as much as methanol, this alcohol is toxic and will damage your nervous system and internal organs if you drink it. Possible effects may include blindness, brain damage and kidney and liver damage. These effects may be permanent, plus it’s possible to die from drinking this chemical.

Although rubbing alcohol is not good to drink, it’s unlikely a person would be able to tell the effects apart from those caused by drinking grain alcohol. Drinking isopropyl alcohol initially causes intoxication, slurred speech, blurred vision and dizziness.

Hand sanitizer containing ethyl alcohol (ethanol or grain alcohol) theoretically could be drunk, except it may be denatured. This means the alcohol has purposely been adulterated to make it undrinkable. Back in the days of Prohibition, denaturing agents included arsenic and benzene. Modern denaturing agents range from toxic chemicals to non-toxic, foul-tasting chemicals. The problem is that you can’t tell from the label what denaturing chemical was used.

Hand Sanitizer Ingredient List

When you read a bottle of hand sanitizer, you’ll likely see ethyl alcohol listed as the active ingredient, usually around 60%, which is equivalent to 120-proof liquor. In comparison, straight vodka is only 80-proof. Other ingredients (inactive ingredients) include benzophenone-4, carbomer, fragrance, glycerin, isopropyl myristate, propylene glycol, tocopheryl acetate and water. Some of these ingredients are harmless; others are toxic. Of this sample list, the fragrance is the additive most likely to cause problems. You can’t tell the composition of the fragrance and many common scents derive from petrochemicals.

Can You Drink It?

You can, but the bottom line is that you shouldn’t! Even if the label lists ethyl alcohol as the only active ingredient, it’s unlikely that alcohol is in a drink-able form. Plus, the other ingredients may be toxic. Yes, it’s possible to distill alcohol from hand sanitizer, but you’ll likely have a low-purity (contaminated) product.

However, the main risk of drinking hand sanitizer isn’t from the toxic chemicals, but from the extremely high alcohol content. Most people who are hospitalized from drinking hand sanitizer get there because of alcohol poisoning (overdose). The alcohol content is so high that it is easy to drink a dangerous amount of alcohol before feeling the initial effects.

References

Prisoner “Drunk on Swine Flu Gel”, BBC News Online
Isopropyl Alcohol Material Safety Data Sheet, ScienceLab.com
Isopropyl Alcohol, BDH.
MSDS for Benzophenone-4, Spectrum Chemicals

There are alcohol free hand gels and I suspect they will slowly replace these to reduce the risk …..