Phoenix, Arizona

The rise of COVID-19 in Southwestern States are leading to other deadly consequences from methanol laced hand sanitizers. The medical toxicologist for Banner Health, Dr. Frank Lovecchio recently told Max Gorden a reporter for 3TV/CBS 5 located in Phoenix that they have seen 14 known cases of hospitalizations from methanol poisoning. 

Dr. Lovecchio attributed these cases to drinking moonshine made from hand sanitizer. “So, these poor unfortunate people think they’re getting bootleg alcohol, or maybe they’re making bootleg alcohol, and then they succumb to this bad influence of methanol,” 

Vodka or hand sanitizer
With local distillers helping make hand sanitizer bottles are often identical to liquor

Before these documented rises in cases attributed to methanol poisoning from consuming moonshine, the FDA has been issuing warnings about imported hand sanitizers that contain methanol instead of the correct ingredient, ethanol alcohol (ethyl). As of July 9, 2020, the FDA list of hand sanitizers that contain methanol has grown to 55 brands and lots.   

Most of the tainted hand sanitizers on the FDA list are being produced in and imported from Mexico, although some are from China. The use of hand sanitizer that is tainted with and purposely made with methanol a cheaper form of alcohol can result in health problems when absorbed through the skin.

As noted in the FDA warning, “Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidently ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk.” 

Methanol has been a favorite cheap substitute for counterfeit liquor producers throughout the world and causes thousands of deaths, illness, blindness, organ damage, and hospitalizations annually. The advent of COVID-19 and the rise in the use of hand sanitizers have created a new market for these unscrupulous manufacturers.

The FDA warning bulletin updated on July 9, 2020 also notes their concerns with fraudulently manufactured hand sanitizers. 

  • The dangers of drinking any hand sanitizer under any conditions. While hand sanitizers with possible methanol contamination are more life-threatening than those that are not contaminated, FDA urges consumers not to drink any of these products. 
  • Certain hand sanitizers that may not contain a sufficient amount of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol.
  • Hand sanitizers that are sold or offered for sale with false and misleading, unproven claims that they can prevent the spread of viruses such as COVID-19, including claims that they can provide prolonged protection (e.g., for up to 24-hours).
  • Products that are fraudulently marketed as “FDA-approved” since there are no hand sanitizers approved by FDA.
  • Products packaged to appear as drinks, candy, or liquor bottles, as well as products marketed as drinks or cocktails because their appearance could result in accidental ingestion or encourage ingestion. Children are particularly at risk with these products since ingesting only a small amount of hand sanitizer may be lethal in a young child.

The FDA has ordered a recall of most of the hand sanitizers on their list which has been growing since the surge of positive COVID-19 cases in the Southwestern US.  The first warning was issued on July 2, 2020 for a brand called, Britz Hand Sanitizer Ethyl Alcohol 70%. Although its label listed that it contained 70% Ethyl Alcohol, FDA tests revealed that its true main ingredient was methanol. The list of suspected brands has been growing and now stands at 55. 

What does this list of hand sanitizers have to do with moonshine in Arizona? Crafty bootleggers are using the methanol laced hand sanitizers to produce moonshine quickly and cheaply. Instead of taking the time to distill the moonshine, they can easily separate the methanol from the hand sanitizers and use it as the base for their counterfeit liquor. 

Authorities and doctors such as Dr. Lovecchio are worried that the problem will continue to grow especially on reservations located throughout the South West. “Liquor stores, particularly on the reservation, are a little bit farther away, so it’s harder for you to get to it. So, people resorted to making their own stuff. By resorting to making their own stuff, it fell to the problems of getting contaminants in it, such as, in this case, methanol,” Dr. Lovecchio said.

Hand sanitizer label or liquor
Labels on hand-sanitizer bottles can look like generic alcohol labels. Consumers need to be extra careful.

Hospitals that are being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases may not be able to accurately triage patients who present with virus symptoms from those who have methanol poisoning. Common symptoms of methanol poisoning may include severe vomiting, nausea, and breathing difficulties like patients who seek treatment for COVID-19. 

In a story filed by reporter Christina Rodriquez for KOB 4 in Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 26, 2020, she reported that 3 people had died from methanol tainted hand sanitizers. Along with the deaths 1 person is permanently blind and 3 remain in critical care. Blindness is a common result caused by methanol poisoning. Ms. Rodriquez quoted a New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) press release in her report. “All seven people are believed to have drunk hand sanitizer containing methanol,”

She also interviewed NMDOH Cabinet Secretary Kathy Kunkel who stated, “If you think you may have used or consumed hand sanitizer containing methanol, please seek medical care. An antidote to methanol poisoning is available, but the earlier someone gets treated for methanol poisoning the better the chance of recovery.”  

More #FDA warning after #handsanitizer with methanol is used to make toxic Moonshine Click to Tweet

Fomepizole is recognized as a treatment for methanol poisoning as described in The New England Journal of Medicine in an article published on February 8, 2001 credited to Brent, M.D., Ph.D., Kenneth McMartin, Ph.D., Scott Phillips, M.D., Cynthia Aaron, M.D., et al., for the Methylpyrazole for Toxic Alcohols Study Group. Not all hospitals do not stock Fomepizole, therefore owing to the time sensitivity of immediate treatment for methanol poisoning it is of little use. 

Although it would seem to be counterintuitive the consumption of legal, properly distilled alcoholic beverages made from ethanol can buy time for victims of methanol poisoning. Ethanol is not an antidote, nor does it counteract the deadly effects of methanol. It does, however, cause a competitive chemical reaction within the body that will delay the methanol from being converted to formaldehyde and formic acid. It is the formic acid, the result of the body’s breakdown of methanol, which causes blindness, organ failure, nerve damage and death.

Applying the tainted methanol laced hand sanitizers can cause the same adverse effects as ingesting. Safeproof.org has throughout the years warned of the necessity for awareness in safely consuming alcoholic beverages, we now must extend those warnings to the use of hand sanitizers considering recent events.  

Consumers must be vigilant when consuming alcoholic beverages and now in applying off-brand hand sanitizers. The problem lies in the fact that counterfeiters, bootleggers, and illicit producers have become adept at packaging. There is not an easy way to identify methanol tainted products, use everything with a judicious eye and be aware of the onset of symptoms.  Seek medical help immediately if you think you have been poisoned by methanol.  Time is of the essence. Consuming legal, verified ethanol based beverages will delay the effects of methanol poisoning until you can get proper medical attention.  

The mission of SafeProof.org is to raise awareness for Fake or Counterfeit alcohol and to keep liquor safe.  Search liquor enforcement using our map to keep you and your drinks safe. Report any illicit alcohol activity to us using our secure form or by calling (833) SAFE-TIP To get the latest Alcohol Alerts and violation updates in your area Sign-up for SafeProof.org emails and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SafeProof 

Written by: Daniel Dachille – Staff Writer for SafeProof.org

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