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Hand Sanitizer Is the Scary New Drug for Kids

Parents buy hand sanitizer to keep themselves or their kids germ-free, but now some children are using this product in a very dangerous and even deadly way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants parents to know that nearly 71,000 children under age 12 ingested hand sanitizer between 2011 and 2014 — some of them intentionally. Health officials are concerned children may be drinking it to try and get drunk or high.

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“Older children (aged 6–12 years) were more likely to report intentional ingestion and to have adverse health effects and worse outcomes than were younger children, suggesting that older children might be deliberately misusing or abusing alcohol hand sanitizers,” the CDC said in a statement.

Many hand sanitizers contain up to 60 percent to 95 percent ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Ingesting the substance can have serious consequences including seizures, alcohol poisoning, organ damage and even death.

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“I have not had any cases, nor have I had any parents requesting information on hand sanitizer,” said Dr. Rosemary Stein, a North Carolina-based pediatrician. “But it wouldn’t be unusual given that the volume of alcohol in sanitizer is very, very high and children could get the effects by drinking very, very little.”

Kids do really dumb things, said Stein. She’s had patients in the past drink a whole bottle of scotch or tequila — and given how easy it is for kids to access alcoholic beverages or even marijuana, she warns parents to watch for signs of use and abuse of those substances vs. that of hand sanitizer. Pay attention to it all, however.

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Symptoms of swallowing hand sanitizer can include stomach pain, vomiting, or drowsiness. The CDC suggests increased adult supervision of these products at home and at school — and also recommends good old-fashioned soap and water to prevent the spread of germs.