Getting high on hand sanitizers

No vaccine, antivirals in short supply, what to do if bird flu strikes? Wash your hands, seems to be a favorite. While its efficacy is unproven, it's not a bad thing to do anyway. Dry skin is the only plausible side effect. Dry skin and hand sanitizer abuse. It's 70% ethyl alcohol:

The 49-year-old Maryland inmate seemed seriously sick after he drank from a gallon-container of hand sanitizer. Described as "loony," "red-eyed" and "combative," he was whisked by officials to a nearby Baltimore hospital for treatment.

But they quickly discovered he wasn't ill -- just very, very drunk on Purell.

The October incident, detailed today in the New England Journal of Medicine as one of the first documented cases of its kind, has raised questions about the potential abuse of alcohol-based hand sanitizers by teenagers and other at-risk groups.

"The widespread use of hand sanitizer is fraught with a great deal of danger," said Suzanne Doyon, medical director of the Maryland Poison Center, who co-authored a letter in the journal about the case. "From an infection control perspective they are excellent. But there is this risk involved." (WaPo)

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but the non-alcohol ingredients are said to be relatively non-toxic (relative to alcohol, anyway). Compared to the alcohol content of beer (5%), wine (12%) or whiskey (40%), Purell is also probably cost effective. The patient in this case had a blood alcohol of .33, four times Maryland's limit for drivers. the Maryland Poison Center has had a half dozen other similar cases.

"Someone who drinks it will behave like your pretty typical garden-variety drunk," she said.

The Maryland inmate, described as usually calm, seemed intoxicated and began "lecturing everybody about life" after imbibing the Purell, Doyon said.

Many people carry hand sanitizers in their purses or pockets. Will an open bottle be prohibited in a car? This could be a bit of a delicate problem for schools and hospitals encouraging hand hygiene by making hand sanitizers more available. Including an ingredient to make people sick? That would seem to be a bit dangerous, now that the word is out you can drink it and get high. Carding for hand sanitizers? Probably.

Nothing about bird flu is simple. Even the simple things.

Cheers, everyone!

More like this

Isn't the alcohol in things like hand sanitizer denatured? Meaning that it's kind of toxic anyway?

Going through airport security recently, Homeland Security confiscated my 2.5 oz bottle of hand sanitizer (and told that I wasn't allowed to ask why, but that's another story). I thought then that they were just power-tripping, but now I see that they were simply protecting me the whole time. Thanks, Revere, for restoring my faith in that agency.


Purell contains ethyl alcohol, not methyl or isopropyl. Ingredients here.

Hear that, bird-flu "preppers"? Time to stock up on Purell before somebody makes the stuff illegal.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 05 Feb 2007 #permalink

Rumor has it this is why E85 isn't E100.

Thanks Revere; nice to know the Purell I have stocked will serve a double purpose.

My son, in an Ohio grammar school, had a teacher who kept a large supply of mouthwash in a cabinet over the sink. The cabinet was completely full - I looked after my son complained of his teacher's behavior. My son's teacher constantly washed his teeth and gargled during class. My son, who had to sit in the front row, was asked to fetch stuff all the time and especially in the afternoon. "..You , uh, need to get from my office the stack of papers ..." Sometimes, the teacher would conduct class while he was sitting under his desk! For one reason or another the principal did not want to confront the fact that this teacher was a lush...and drinking Listerine. It took a over year to have this teacher referred rehab... can you imagine!

Public hand-washing? Har must be joking.80% of people who say they wash their hands actually give them a 3 second drizzle under a cold tap and then swipe them over their T shirt because the paper towels are all gone and they will not use the air dryers.People hate those things.
This happens in hospitals and supermarkets...I see it all the time.

Leave the stuff alone. People who drink hand sanitizer are in the same category as those who sniff gasoline or model airplane glue: the dregs of the drug-user universe, stupid lowlifes who are on the fast-track to dissolving their brain cells en masse because they aren't smart enough to figure out where to get marijuana. The idea that the rest of us have to put up with restrictions on a product that is a public health necessity, to keep a bunch of idiot scumbags from trashing their wetware, is infuriating.

I've taken the tiny bottles of Purell onto airplanes, no problem. Into the separate plastic bag it goes, and Homeland Security takes a look and waves me through.

Rather than requiring ID to purchase hand sanitizer, we should be a) outlawing all those "antibacterial" products that contain Triclosan and similar quasi-antibiotics that breed resistant bugs, and b) teaching grade school kids how to properly wash their hands, by having them practice in the girls' & boys' bathrooms under teacher supervision.

When they get to highschool biology class, the drill would go like this: Go use your hands to open a few doorknobs, then go into the bathroom and slide the latch on the cubicle and operate the flush valve (they wouldn't have to poop & wipe for this, that's invasive as hell). Next, put your fingertips in petri dish #1. Now wash your hands the way you normally do it. Next, put your fingertips in petri dish #2. Now wash your hands the way you're supposed to do it. And then put your fingertips in petri dish #3. Now all of these petri dishes go into the incubator for a few days. When they come out, we'll teach you how to do gram positive and gram negative stains and look at the stained bacteria under the microscope.

Anyone with an average or better IQ ought to get the lesson pretty quickly after that.

How to teach adults to wash their hands properly:

"Dude!, did you ever notice how the water turns gray when you wash your hands properly? Take a close look next time at the water that runs into the sink. All that gray stuff is the crud that was on your hands. Pretty gross, eh? Not something you want to get on your lunch and in your mouth, that's for sure!"


I didn't mean to convey the misleading impression that Homeland Security (er...the TSA, I should have said) was consistent. That was one flight of a hundred or so last year; no complaint from them any other time.


Purell cannot say that it 'kills' or deactivates viruses, I think. It does a number on bacteria, though.
Interesting piece on how some Muslims refuse to use hand rubs because the solution contains alcohol ( ). The notion is bizarre in light of the fact that the alcohol evaporates quite quickly when applied, plus many Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, use alcohol based rubs in their hospitals.

Hell Lisa-I am from Tennessee. We have been making Purell in the back 40 for about one hundred years now.....That kind of Purell we make by the vat load.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 06 Feb 2007 #permalink

Though I appreciate the humor, I'm serious. It's a good hand sanitizer, and wingnuts like this Purell drinker could wind up causing the product to be reformulated or pulled from the market.

By Lisa the GP (not verified) on 06 Feb 2007 #permalink

Yeah, I sent the copy of this up to now to my wife who uses Purell all the time. She wasnt happy about it as the other stuff pretty well eats her hands up.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 06 Feb 2007 #permalink

I wonder how it mixes with Jello?

By ConnectRN (not verified) on 06 Feb 2007 #permalink

My daughter told me that her friend's brother put a thick coating of hand sanitizer on his hand (I don't know that it was specifically Purell), and then lit it with a match! He proceded to run around slinging the "fire jelly" around the yard until he finally wrapped a towel around his hand to snuff out the flames. Heaven help us when he finds out he can drink the stuff!!! - PS. My daughter hasn't asked to go back the their house since...

Melanie: I tried washing down the sink counter with a 1986 Chateau Margaux and it just stained it. And it wasn't cheaper.

Could someone please tell me what SD40 Alcohol is? It was on a bottle of antibacterial hand gel.

Ann: SD40 stands for special denatured alcohol formulation 40. It contains denatured ethyl alcohol. Denatured alcohol is drinking alcohol that has some additive (traditionally wood alcohol) that makes it undrinkable. There are various ways to do this and I don't know what is done for SD40. The bottom line is that you can't drink it without getting sick (or worse).

I chanced upon a website that detailed the process how the Purell-type hand wipes were tested. Seems the testers put a pretty good size glob on their hands, massaged it in for 30 seconds (if it had evaporated before that, then they didn't take enough), and then repeated the process. Ya, they did it twice, not what most people in real life do.

Another site told what happened if you used this stuff 7 times in a row -- you end up with more bacteria on your hands than when you first started.
It seems that the way this stuff works, it strips away the outer film of oil that coats your hands, and it takes most of the bacteria that lives on it. But you rub in some more of this stuff, and it starts making the deep-down bacteria on your skin available. When they took hand-prints on petri dishes before and after application with Purell, they found the after treatment dishes were several times as bad as the Before.

It's funny, I keep hand sanitizer that's provided by the health department with me all the time. I never even considered it's use for bird flu. I fairly regularly clean the apartments of a couple of people who are HIV positive and one who has full blown AIDS. As this occasionally entails cleaning up bodily fluids, it was recommended that I use this particular sanitizer as well as wearing the rubber gloves.

I wonder about Mr. Dombrowski's comment about the effectiveness of alcohol on viruses, I was under the impression that it was the SD40 alcohol that was the active ingredient in the hand sanitizer that I use. As it is provided by the health department, specifically because I volunteer with a (dis)organization that provides home aid for people with HIV and AIDS.

This raises another concern about people drinking hand sanitizer. While I tend to have a lot more sympathy than g510, for those who use these sorts of substances to get high, it is true that they are often rather ignorant. I am especially concerned about the kids who may hear that hand sanitizer will get them drunk. Many of them may not realize that isopropyl and methyl alcohols, can cause severe illness, blindness and death.

That said, I wouldn't begin to suggest that these sorts of hand sanitizers should be restricted. It pisses me off to no end that simply because some people choose to misuse certain substances, everyone else should have to suffer.

I cant believe how desprate kids are these days to get high/drunk. I think that there should be limited to kids. parents should keep it hidden, until they need some, then just give a little squirt, and watch them rub it on their hands, then let them walk away. And there sure as hell better not be teachers trying to get high/drunk in class, it is definatly just a way to not get a proper education!

Great info about hand sanitizer. Here in the city that I live in, an infant died from ingesting hand sanitizer. It was in her hands and face, and apparently she licked it. An elementary school student also did the same because it was watermelon scented, and the child decided that it would probably taste good. They no longer carry scented versions of hand sanitizer at many of the local stores due to this happening. It terrifies me to think that my kids have such easy access to something so toxic it can be fatal... Use soap people..