Tragic reason why hand sanitiser is banned in Alice Springs: 'Risk is too great'

A crackdown on crime in the Northern Territory is behind the decision.

Pharmacies in Central Australia have rolled out restrictions on the sale of hand sanitiser over rising concerns it's being used for intoxication purposes.

Some stores in Alice Springs have already removed the item from their shelves entirely, but drug and Alcohol Services Australia chief executive Eloise Page is calling for tougher restrictions on the sale of sanitiser across the state.

The town has seen a surge of youth crime and anti-social behaviour including alcohol-induced violence, but the crime crisis in Alice Springs continues to grow. With restrictions on takeaway alcohol sales in place in the region, problem drinkers have been turning to sanitiser which usually contains about 70 per cent alcohol.

Gregory Terrace in Alice Springs, Northern Territory,
There's been a surge of alcohol-induced crime in Alice Springs, Nothern Territory. Source: APP

Alice Springs stores ban or restrict sale of hand sanitiser

Pharmacy Guild NT branch president Peter Hatswell has already stopped the sale of hand sanitiser in three of his chemists in Alice Springs. He said the decision was made after staff had seen instances of people drinking hand sanitiser on social media.

"It has been behind the counter and we've been vetting every sale, but we felt that the risk was just obviously too great and appeared to be getting worse," he told the ABC on Thursday. "We thought the responsible thing would be to stop selling it for now, at least in relation to the abuse that's going on."

Woolworths in Alice Springs has been forced to take drastic measures too and photos shared by show sanitiser locked inside cupboards with Listerine and vanilla essence. On the open shelves, Listerine "Zero Alcohol" is the only option, a local told the publication.

Woolworths spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo News Australia staff have secured products in stores where "product misuse has emerged as an issue". Deodorant cans have been locked inside glass cabinets since 2021.

"We treat product misuse seriously and intend to play our part in upholding community safety," Woolworths said in a statement to Yahoo. "We continue to explore a range of practical long-term solutions that will enable us to safely display products on the shop floor."

A growing number of people in Alice Springs are abusing hand sanitiser for teh purpose of intoxication. Source: Getty
A growing number of people in Alice Springs are abusing hand sanitiser for teh purpose of intoxication. Source: Getty

New alcohol bans in Northern Territory

Last week, the state government introduced strict new rules around the sale of takeaway alcohol in Central Australia following an emergency meeting with federal leaders including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The new measures will include a three-month ban on the sale of takeaway alcohol in the region on Mondays and Tuesdays and reduced trading hours on other days. A limit of one purchase per person each day will also be in place.

Ms Page, head of an Alice Springs-based sobering-up shelter, said people have been using the substance both before and after the recently introduced alcohol restrictions. Covid-19 saw an increase in sales of sanitiser globally, and while still considered an essential product, there needs to be "a lot more information and education about it," she said. She said hand sanitiser has always been a "much cheaper option" for alcohol consumption, and its effects are glaringly obvious.

"[Shelter staff] can tell when those particular people are using hand sanitiser as their substance of choice, because they see different behaviour and much higher levels of intoxication," she told the ABC.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks to media during a press conference in Alice Springs on Tuesday. Source: AAP
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks to media during a press conference in Alice Springs last Tuesday. Source: AAP

Calls for long-term solution

Alice Springs mayor Matt Paterson said the town is getting "getting awfully difficult to live in". Residents feel like "prisoners in our own home", he told Nine's Today show.

"You have people who are scared to go to bed at night because they're not sure what's going to happen whilst they're asleep," he said, but the alcohol bans in Alice Springs have already made a difference, Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said.

"I have been briefed by police and they have seen that difference on the ground," she said on Thursday. "But that is a short-term solution to provide respite to the community. We need to have long-term measures that allow us to have a safer community."

The chief minister is also calling for the federal government to step up with needs-based funding, because of the high cost of delivering rural and regional services. A long-term central Australian alcohol management plan will be developed to deal with "complex issues" including domestic violence, unemployment and youth on the streets.

with AAP

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