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Hand sanitizer deaths concern Sudbury crisis worker

A community outreach worker in Sudbury says it's not uncommon to come across people high on hand sanitizer.
Paul Laurin, a co-ordinator with a Sudbury outreach program known as L'association des jeunes de la Rue, says he's not surprised that two people may have died from drinking hand sanitizer. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

A community outreach worker in Sudbury says it's not uncommon to come across people high on hand sanitizer.

Paul Laurin, who is with L'association des Jeunes de la Rue, said on his walks through the downtown a couple of times a week, he encounters people who have consumed sanitizer.

His comments come after an alert issued by Health Canada and the Ontario coroner. There is an investigation into the deaths of two people in the province.

Statement from Health Canada:

Health Canada would like to remind consumers that the labels of hand sanitizers advise external use only and as such, the product should never be ingested.

Testing undertaken by Ontario’s Centre of Forensic Sciences of two bottles of “Bodico Hand Sanitizer” associated with the deaths found the product contained methanol, an undeclared ingredient, and not ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient listed for the product.

Methanol is a highly toxic alcohol that, if ingested, can cause blindness or death. High amounts of methanol applied to the skin can cause irritation and inflammation.

The fatalities may be linked to the consumption of a certain brand of hand sanitizer.

Health Canada is working with the manufacturer to remove the Bodico brand of hand sanitizer from store shelves, but Laurin said other brands of sanitizer are still very harmful.

'They don't care'

Laurin said he'd like high-alcohol products such as mouthwash and sanitizer to be kept behind store counters.

Drinking the substance causes people to lose touch with reality, he said.

“They don't react the same way,” he said. “We have to be really cautious because we don't know how they're going to react. I've seen one guy who didn't know whether he was coming or going. He didn't even know his name.”

Bottles of sanitizer had to be removed from a drop-in at the Samaritan Centre because people were stealing them to drink, he added.

“They don't care, they don't think about what’s … going to happen [to] … their bodies and their brain,” Laurin said.

“All they want is that instant high and, once you get that high, you're just searching for more and more.”

CBC News made calls to major drug store chains about this story. None of those calls were returned.

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