This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Gangs of street drinkers are apparently breaking into hospitals to steal the antibacterial hand gel that they have in pumps on the wall, which they are then drinking and getting drunk on. This isn't new: the desperate and the homeless have been soap-drinking for years. What is new is a BBC investigation linking the practice to deaths, which is, on the whole, quite bad.
The soap they have in hospitals has alcohol in it to sterilize hands and help keep a lid on the spread of MRSA, and if you get half a cup of that mixed with water then baby, you've got some booze going. Exceptionally bad, lethal booze, that quite often leads to hemorrhaging and even death.
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The BBC spoke to one of these street gang soap drinkers, known only as Bartlomiej, who actually on the whole gave off a "drinking soap is a bad idea" vibe, recounting that time his body ruptured and he lost 1.5 liters of blood and nearly died.
"We lived in various places, always nearby hospitals," he said. "We were squatting, or we just illegally lived in houses or different accommodation. Those were the places we were binge drinking. It's a really simple life."
Hospitals the gangs stole from included Charing Cross, King's College, North Middlesex, St. George's, Lambeth, and Hammersmith. "You don't have to steal it because it's widely available," Bartlomiej says. "We've just been walking in with a plastic cup. If it was a manual dispenser we just filled a half of a cup of this spirit gel and we mixed it with water, half-and-half. You don't need to drink a lot of it to get drunk." But before you start legitimately thinking about it, consider death. "I've lost a few of my friends," Bartlomiej said. "The ones who drank Ace cider and hand wash gel."
This is the thing, though: while soap dispenser booze death figures aren't greatly fun reading (as the BBC reports, "The deaths of at least three people in London have been linked by coroners to the consumption of alcohol hand wash since 2008"), they're nothing compared to legitimate alcohol deaths in the UK. As ONS figures from February confirm, there were 8,416 alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2013, a largely steady rate (14 deaths per 100,000) to the year before. That's bad, right? Like: drinking soap, also bad. But a constant 8,000-odd deaths per year from lager and cider and those little Corky's shots and White Lightning and Frosty Jack's is also quite uncool. Do we only care about so-called street drinking gangs because street drinking is anti-social, or that petty theft is a crime? Do we only pearl clutch about dying from consuming hand sanitizer because they didn't pay for it?
Anyway, leading GP Dr. Sarah Jarvis told the BBC that drinking soap = bad IMO. "These alcohol gels are not made to be drunk," she said. "Therefore they will have all sorts of things added to them which will be very toxic.
"They can cause severe inflammation on the inside of your gut. You can also get alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. There's absolutely no question that these things can kill and there have been several situations where patients have been killed."
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I've always thought the central tenet of a successful gang is leadership and organization, which makes me wonder what sort of logistical shitshow a roving soap-drunk street gang might be when they are out on the job. Do they have their own pissed Fagin, aloe vera-scented handwash dribbling from the corners of his mouth, ordering gangs of men to bumrush various hospitals and pump at the handwash dispensers until they have a cup of sterile punch for him to suck on? Or are they rudderless, a box full of drunken kittens emptied onto the floor, scattering to the wind in different directions, knowing only that they want—no: need—soap, guzzled directly from the nozzle like a thirsty child quaffing down squash? We may never know.
Anyway: don't drink soap, kids, you will eventually die.
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