Synopsis: Newly-invented powdered alcohol is entering the market, but some experts and legislators believe it should be banned because it’s likely to be abused by teens. Experts, the product’s inventor and legislators discuss.
Host: Nancy Benson. Guests: Mark Phillips, Palcohol inventor; David Jernigan, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Rick Jones (R), State Senator, Michigan; Brian Kelsey (R), State Senator, Tennessee
NANCY BENSON: Each year nearly 88 thousand people die from alcohol-related causes in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Now, a new form of alcohol has been invented, and some experts and politicians are concerned it could add to the toll. It’s powdered alcohol or “palcohol,” and it comes in a packet making one cocktail when mixed with liquid. The product has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration and its manufacturers say it’ll come in flavors like cosmopolitan and margarita –if it manages to hit the shelves.
MARK PHILLIPS: We’re working through some things right now. There’s some legislative concerns on the federal level that have to be addressed and we’re waiting to see how those play out. That is kind of our hold up right now, but as soon as those are addressed we’ll ramp up and get going.
BENSON: That’s Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol. He’s not worried about getting the product on the market, even though several states have already banned it.
PHILLIPS: Obviously, in the states where they’ve banned it, we won’t be distributing it there. We’ll be distributing it in all the states where it’s legal to sell. And I think many of the states that have banned it out of ignorance and fear, will realize the benefit of the product and reverse their course because citizens of the state will want access to the product.
BENSON: But some experts are concerned that some groups may want the product too much. David Jernigan, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says teens who get their hands on palcohol are likely to abuse it. His team did a study of teenagers and their drinking habits…even to the point of finding out the brands of alcohol that kids abuse most.
DAVID JERNIGAN: Almost 900 different brands of alcohol, whether they used them in the last 30 days, how much they used, and what consequences from alcohol they have experienced. And we found that these newer, edgier products, things like, favorite alcoholic beverages, things like what we call the “supersized alcopops”. Young people who drank the supersized versions of these were four times more likely to report binge drinking, six times more likely to report an alcohol-related injury then kids who didn’t drink flavored alcoholic beverages. Jell-O shots, another example; kids who use them are one and a half times more likely to report binge drinking, 1.7 times more likely to report having been in a physical fight after drinking than other teen drinkers. The point is, there is a small group of kids who will experiment with products like this. And the general consensus that I think we’re seeing across the country is that this format of the product is simply too easy for kids to abuse.
BENSON: Jernigan says alcohol abuse by under-21s is no small thing. It’s why college campuses have taken major steps against binge drinking the last decade or so…and why the abuse potential of any new product needs to be examined.
JERNIGAN: Alcohol is the leading drug among young people in the US. It’s responsible for 4,300 deaths a year in the US among people under 21. There are reasons that we treat this product differently than Kool-Aid. And those reasons have everything to do with protecting young people and ensuring that they can grow up to have healthy and long lives.
BENSON: Jernigan isn’t alone in his concerns. State senator Rick Jones of Michigan has already moved to ban the sale of Palcohol in his home state. Among his concerns? It could be sprinkled on food, more easily smuggled into places where alcohol is banned, or even be snorted.
RICK JONES: I think it’s a product that absolutely is not needed. It’s been suggested that perhaps hikers might wanna carry it on a hike and then have drinks when they got to the end of their hike. I think that’s pretty ridiculous. There is no good reason to have this product. Therefore, I think, because of the dangers it should be banned from sale. It’ll be much easier for people to overdose. They won’t realize how much they’re putting on their pizza or mixing up into whatever they’re consuming.
BENSON: However, not all politicians agree with Jones about Palcohol. State senator Brian Kelsey from Tennessee says regardless of whether it’s a liquid or a powder, alcohol is alcohol.
BRIAN KELSEY: I don’t see any dangers from powdered alcohol that are any worse than the dangers from liquid alcohol. I think the liquor lobby has worked very strong to defeat the bill and therefore, legislators only heard one side of the story.
BENSON: Phillips agrees. He says palcohol faces a political battle because of the threat it poses to profits of the alcoholic products already on the market.
PHILLIPS: If they really were concerned about a product being misused and abused, why wouldn’t they address the obvious public health danger of liquid alcohol? But they don’t because the liquor companies are spreading the misinformation about Palcohol to protect their market share and their profits.
BENSON: As for snorting Palcohol, Phillips says it can be done…but it’s not a realistic threat.
PHILLIPS: They won’t get drunk from snorting powdered alcohol, which is generally the idea of doing something like that. They get high or drunk. And it’s impossible to get high or drunk using powdered alcohol because it’s very painful to snort. It would take you over an hour to snort the equivalent of one shot of vodka, for instance.
BENSON: However, critics like Jernigan argue that teens will try to snort it despite the difficulty…and the expense. Palcohol will be about four times more expensive per drink than liquid alcohol. But despite the opposition and the price tag, Phillips still sees a strong market for it. He’s working hard to distribute palcohol to states that haven’t already banned it.
You can find out more about all our guests on our website…radiohealthjournal.net, where you can also find archives of our programs. You can find them on iTunes and Stitcher as well.
Our writer-producer this week is Amirah Zaveri
Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Nick Hofstra.
I’m Nancy Benson.