People are creative

…in their efforts to harm themselves.  I’ll never forget the patient we had to admit serially because he had an alcohol problem so the family wouldn’t buy him booze.  They would, however, buy him Listerine, which he’d drink for the alcohol but then vomit for hours, probably from the other ingredients.

Today’s case-in-point: drinking the alcohol based, now ubiquitous hand sanitizers.  From CNN:

In the second case, a 43-year-old man with alcoholism was treated for mysterious chest pains and other symptoms.

“Before those results were obtained, the patient was seen in the bathroom drinking the alcohol-based hand wash from its dispenser,” Dr. Ashkan Emadi and Dr. LeAnn Coberly of the University of Cincinnati wrote.

“When asked why he ingested the hand cleaner, he pointed to the label, which read, ‘Active ingredient 63 percent v/v isopropyl alcohol.’ He explained that this percentage is higher than that in vodka,” they added.


Oh, and this’ll never fly, and for good reason:

It takes only a small amount of isopropanol to kill, by depressing the heart and central nervous system, they wrote.

They suggested that makers of the hand gels change the labeling.

Update: I mean that if they meant to exclude the contents that’d be wrong, but if they want to put “Do Not Drink” on the label that a) won’t keep anyone from intentionally drinking it, and b) would be more for the lawyers than the public.

And, from eMedicine:

Death from ingestion of isopropanol is uncommon. Isopropanol has 2-3 times the potency of ethanol and causes hypotension and CNS and respiratory depression more readily than ethanol. Peak levels occur approximately 30 minutes after ingestion because of rapid GI absorption, which is delayed in the presence of food. Isopropanol is a CNS and cardiac depressant with about twice the potency of ethanol. Serum levels more than 400 mg/dL are potentially fatal.

So, don’t drink the hand sanitizers.


  1. Ugh, that makes me ill to think about it…

  2. Drink Purell? OOhh puke! Looks like I need to add a line to the posting about handwashing I wrote today…. jeeze…(shaking head) someone actually DRANK it?… Mary Lu

  3. Bad Shift says:

    But can I sniff it?

  4. The hand sanitizer at my facility contains ETHANOL, not isopropyl alcohol. It is in a can and comes out like white mousse.
    Might be difficult to drink it, but you could possibly eat it with a spoon.

  5. Listerine was very popular in the last place I worked, they could buy two bottles for a dollar at the dollar store.

  6. ah yes it’s so easy to poke fun of the uneducated but addicted. what about the educated AND addicted. in my experience, they have been fewer but have inflicted quite a bit of harm. do you know any?

  7. ah yes it’s so easy to poke fun at the uneducated and addicted. what about the educated and addicted. in my experience, they have been fewer but have inflicted quite a bit of harm. do you know any?

  8. If someone dies drinking hand sanitizer it’d be good riddance. Nominate the guy for a Darwin Award.

  9. Ang, since you posted you comment twice, I suppose this has struck a nerve.

    Sorry about your experience, but dysfunctional behavior is the same in the educated and uneducated alike, and the harm that results probably seems greater in the educated, but in reality is not. Lives are still ruined, and while a greater proportion of people cluck their tongues and say ‘what a shame’ when it’s a doctor or accountant felled to drug or alcohol addiction it’s still one individual and their problem. Educational levels don’t matter. Feel free to leave you educational-level bias at the door.

    Also, I’m not poking fun at anyone; the post is about observed reality, and the news reporting linked, and my experience, is real.

  10. Re: “But can I sniff it?”

    At first it’s just one innocent little sniff. And the next thing you know, you’re guzzling it three times an hour. Don’t take that first step towards hand sanitizer addiction. Just don’t do it!

  11. NocturnalDoc says:

    We found one of the inpatient medical patients drinking it last month.

  12. Please don’t let JCACHO read this article – we will all have to lock our hand sanitizer up in a drawer that only the charge nurse has keys to.

  13. Derrick – yours is the funniest comment!! Lock up that hand sanitzer!! Anyway, this is one I had heard of before. Wonder if anyone ever sucks on alcohol swabs?

  14. We had a guy who would take shots of hemocult guaiac developer.

  15. TheNewGuy says:

    In my neck of the woods, they’re all about that nasty high-alcohol no-brand mouthwash you can get at Wal-mart.

  16. Jerry – does that stuff have alcohol in it? I have to use that several times a day as we test all babies stool for blood in the NICU. I can’t even fathom picking up a bottle of it and drinking it. I’m gagging at the thought, even! I know it doesn’t have a direct link to stool, but still…the thought! Gross!!

    Derrick – that is a hilarious bit about JCAHO and locking it up with only the charge nurse having keys. There are so many things like that!! Now we have to get all the respiratory meds out of the med carts for the respiratory therapists…even though we don’t use them. Respiratory therapists cannot go in a cart where we might have doses of ampicillin, heaven forbid. So if we’re having a code, and I’m at the bedside giving compressions, and we need some sort of respiratory med, then I’m supposed to walk away from the baby to get out the med? I mean, the other nurses could be busy. Ummm…… (Note: there are always more nurses around, but still…it could happen! I just thought the rule was a little extreme..)

    And it doesn’t end there!

    Take care,
    Carrie :)

  17. When I worked at the VA years ago, the scrub sink outside our cath lab had a very carefully worded sign enjoining us not to take the soap internally.

    Sooooo. . . . .basically the message to the patients who passed this sign on their ride into the lab is that the person about to stick a catheter in your heart may have difficulties refraining from oral soap consumption.

    Nothing but the best for our veterans – I tell ya!

    As to JCAHO – they will never run out of work:
    JCAHO in the last decade: “Privacy! – take the name of the patient off of everything.”
    JCAHO now: “Too many errors of giving the wrong patient the wrong medication, test or procedure.”

    Mark my work – the slowness in getting pain relief, code equipment etc will become a focus for them one of these years. They will never realize what a role they played in moving care items further and further and further away from the patient’s bedside in the first place.

  18. Sorry for the double post error – I drank the soap, you know.

  19. No, actually it will be kept in the pyxis machine at the far end of the hall that can only be accessed by the nurse. And then only if the patient has been registered in the computer and interfaced from the computer system to the pyxis system.

    Just like most of the other lifesaving medications, that are needed at the bedside.

    Nurse 1961

  20. TheNewGuy says:

    The day I soured on the pyxis was the day the squad rolled in an apneic, blood-filled crash airway where I needed the crich tray… and it was (wait for it… wait for it…) locked in the pyxis.

    I ordered the nurse to break the !@#X*ing door if necessary… but she was a fast typist, fortunately for the patient…

  21. And you know the pyxis won’t read your fingerprint if you’ve just used the alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Gotta have a little grit on your finger for the print to be very easy for the machine to identify. And by that, I don’t mean germs…but if you’ve just washed your hands, it usually is a lot harder for it to pick up – wash your hands, wait 5 minutes or so – and then it’s easier.

    Oh the things we must do… haha

    Take care,
    Carrie :)

  22. I watched one day (remotely) as a man killed himself. First he drove his van off an embankment, which brought him to our attention. It didnt work, so he tried to get the van onto the railroad tracks. The captain (?) saw him and slowed the train in time. When he realized it, he ran into the highway, got hit by a car and thrown to the other side of the highway, where he was finally killed by a mac truck.
    That kind of determination leaves me speechless.

  23. Jim in Texas says:

    Serum levels more than 400 mg/dL are potentially fatal.

    So, is there and LD-50 for that?

    When I was in the USAF I worked in an altitude chamber training mostly 20 something young lieutenants pilot wannabes. In the men’s room someone posted a warning over the urinals that read

    “2nd LTs are cautioned that the white blocks in the urinals are deodorants and not candy”

    It stayed up the whole four years that I was there.

  24. Bad Shift says:

    “2nd LTs are cautioned that the white blocks in the urinals are deodorants and not candy”

    Now you tell me.

  25. TheNewGuy says:

    Now you tell me.

    Yeah… but they sure left us with nice fresh breath!

  26. Oh, I WOULD have to read this while drinking a Diet Dr. Pepper….