Young people seeking to get high with mind-altering drugs should realize it can be as dangerous as playing Russian roulette.

Just this week, a disturbing report surfaced about California teens getting drunk on hand sanitizer, which contains 62 percent ethyl alcohol and can make a 120-proof liquid. Over the past few months, six teenagers have shown up in Los Angeles area emergency rooms with alcohol poisoning after drinking the cheap, easily product which is easily assessable.

Some teens even use salt to separate the alcohol from the sanitizer, creating a drink similar to a shot of hard liquor.

"All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunk teenager," said Cyrus Rangan, director of the toxicology bureau for the county public health department and a medical toxicology consultant for Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. "There is no question that it is dangerous."

To discourage the teens from experimenting, health experts recommend that parents purchase the foam version of hand sanitizer, since it's harder to extract the alcohol.

Last year, the dangerous fad in drug experimentation was getting high by using bath salts. It's still a problem and doctors and health workers at U.S. poison centers warned that ingesting or snorting "bath salts" containing synthetic stimulants can cause chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusions. There have been many examples of the bizarre behavior in our local police reports.

On Saturday, police around the nation will be accepting unwanted, expired and unused prescription drugs at designated sites. The service is free and anonymous; no questions are asked.

"The Drug Take-Back Program encourages consumers to get outdated or unused medications off their shelves and out of the reach of children and teenagers," said State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, adding that prescription drug abuse by teens has seen a steady increase.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, unwanted or expired prescription medications can be dropped off at select locations. Drop-off points in this area include the Summit Hill Police Department at 40 W. Amidon St.; the Slatington Police Department at 125 South Walnut St.; and the Walnutport Police Department at 417 South Lincoln Ave.

Other drop-off locations across the state can be found by visiting www.psp.state.pa.us and clicking on the "Public Services" link on the navigation menu.

Noonan said the program, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, also reduces the introduction of potentially harmful substances into the environment. Since people have few disposal options, some tend to simply flush medications down the toilet or toss them in the trash. Flushing medications can contribute to water pollution and poses serious health risks to water supplies and fish habitat.

Disposing of medications in trash cans can also cause groundwater contamination through leaching out of landfills, which can harm wildlife ingesting the drugs.

Tomorrow's National Drug Take-Back Day has had a good success record. Last fall, more than 188.5 tons of unwanted or expired medications were turned in at federal, state and local law enforcement sites.

Any effort that makes a dent in the ever-increasing problem of drugs in society is welcome news.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com