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'Dangerous' trend: Teens guzzling hand sanitizer

There's a new dangerous trend among teenagers -- trying to get drunk by guzzling hand sanitizer, the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles reports. Recently, 16 teens in the Los Angeles area have been treated for alcohol poisoning after drinking the cheap liquid.

It's unclear whether the teens knew each other, or had communicated, but at least some of them were distilling the hand sanitizer products, which typically contain at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol, using salt to separate the alcohol. The result is a powerful 120 proof shot, about 50 percent more potent than vodka or tequila, says Dr. Cyrus Rangan, medical toxicologist with the California Poison Control System.

"If a person has never had alcohol before, they can get drunk almost instantaneously," Dr. Calvin Lowe told NBC Los Angeles. "It's very, very dangerous."

Using hand sanitizer to get drunk is just the latest get-wasted fad, similar to young people downing mouthwash or cough syrup, also known as robo-tripping. In 2010 a Food and Drug Adminstration panel weighed whether to require a prescription to buy products containing dextromethorphan, the ingredient found in numerous over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. The FDA panel voted against the proposal.

"Teens have always been looking for things around the house to get high, so they don't have to go to a drug dealer," says Rangan.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the substances most frequently involved in teen poisonings in 2010 (the most recent data available) were:

Ibuprofen -- 10,030 calls
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (Antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft) -- 8,419 calls
Acetaminophen (adult formula) -- 7,995 calls
Atypical Antipsychotics (Ablify, Risperdal) -- 7,319 calls
Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) -- 7,192
Alcohol -- 5,061 calls
Source: AAPCC

While there have been prior cases of people drinking hand sanitizer, the salt procedure is relatively new, Helen Arbogast, injury prevention coordinator-Trauma Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said in a statement. Although the emergency room cases appear limited to Los Angeles county for now, experts are concerned the trend could go viral as more teens discover how to distill the liquid sanitizer on websites or in YouTube videos. 

Children's Hospital is recommending that concerned parents treat hand sanitizer like liquor or medications. Another alternative for parents is to switch to non-gel based foam sanitizers, suggests Rangan. 

NBC News contributed to this report

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