Opinion: Michigan must ban powdered alcohol

Dr. Brad Uren

Sometime this summer, powdered alcohol is expected to hit the market.

Michigan is considering bipartisan proposals; our policymakers should act to ban it without further delay.

Alcohol, when consumed responsibly by adults, is not generally a problem. However, as an emergency physician, I see firsthand what happens when alcohol is misused, abused and accidentally ingested. I see victims of drunken driving, alcohol poisoning, and those with injuries that resulted from someone inadvertently consuming more alcohol than their body can handle.

Back in April, I had the privilege of standing united with county sheriffs, local police chiefs, family physicians, pharmacists, substance abuse prevention groups, and policymakers as we called on our Legislature to ban powdered alcohol. Law enforcement leaders then warned that alcohol in powdered form could be easily sneaked into schools, theaters, stadiums and other locations. Powdered alcohol can be dissolved in liquids, raising the risk that someone may spike another person’s drink.

From my perspective as a medical professional and ER doctor, alcohol in powdered form not only opens the door to increased binge drinking, but also to other significant dangers.

Alcohol in powdered form has higher potential for misuse and abuse because of its concentration, concealability, and portability.

Powdered alcohol can also be packaged to appeal to young people, marketed in bright colors with enticing candy-like names such as “lemon drop.” As a physician parent of a young son, I am especially vigilant about possible dangers lurking in the house and in our surroundings. Powdered alcohol, in bright, eye-catching packaging is one such danger for those with children: A child could see it, think it was a sugary snack and, out of curiosity, consume it.

The consequences are terrifying. Consumed quickly, two to three drinks can make an adult unable to drive. Two to three drinks can render a 5-year-old child unable to breathe. Because of these many concerns, particularly those about the health and safety of our young people, six states — and counting — have banned powdered alcohol.

Michigan should follow suit. It would not be without precedent.

In 2010, Michigan banned a caffeinated alcohol drink that was blamed for numerous injuries and even deaths, until that company changed its formula.

Ordinary citizens and voters understand the dangers of powdered alcohol, too. A new poll by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows that 60 percent of people want it banned.

As a doctor, I consider risks and benefits when ordering testing and treatment for my patients every day. I urge our legislators to listen to the medical experts, to the sheriffs and police chiefs in their communities, and to the voters they represent.

Dr. Brad Uren is president-elect of the Washtenaw County Medical Society and past president of the Michigan College of Emergency Physicians.