The medical officer of health in Labrador says tackling an increase in people drinking hand sanitizer must be done using a two-pronged approach that would address immediate concerns while looking at the root causes of the dangerous practice.
Dr. Joanne McGee with Labrador-Grenfell Health says she and her team are aware of cases where people have been ingesting hand sanitizer, and is concerned over the implications of it.
"It does seem to be something that's more common and more prevalent now," McGee said in an interview Monday.
"It's not meant for human consumption, obviously. It has a number of chemicals in it, including alcohol."
The manager of the Labrador Inn, a for-profit shelter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, sounded the alarm earlier this week after having to call for an ambulance more than a dozen times.
Bill Dormody said he and his staff routinely find bottles of water, soda and other drinks mixed with the clear gel-like liquid.
McGee said a person who ingested hand sanitizer could initially appear as though they're intoxicated by alcohol.
She said work is underway to react to this potentially deadly vice.
"Certainly education is important. It has been brought to our attention and our staff have worked on developing education materials to distribute in the public around the importance of not consuming hand sanitizer and being conscious of its potential for harm if consumed," McGee said.
Dormody fears a mere pamphlet alone will do nothing to stop individuals, most of whom struggle with alcohol addiction.
McGee said the health authority's mental health and addictions teams are available to work with people suffering with substance use disorders.
"Ideally, there would be an outreach aspect in terms of offering support to individuals, you know, in the way of educating people as opposed to simply distributing a pamphlet in the community," McGee said.
"I personally feel that if there is a concern around the consumption of hand sanitizer, then that speaks to other potential issues ... in life circumstances might which might contribute to a person's decision to do that."
McGee said it's important to explore those public health concerns more broadly, in addition to education, harm reduction and emergency medical care.
"You can't kind of ignore what's happening acutely and more urgently, but it's really important to speak to what's contributing to to these unfortunate situations."
Meanwhile, the Labrador Inn and the Housing Hub, the homeless shelter in town, have removed hand sanitizer from easily-accessible places.