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‘Powder keg’

Science | A new form of alcohol may be coming soon to a store near you

Issue: "Border gridlock," Aug. 9, 2014

Trouble. Right here in River City. With a capital T that rhymes with P that stands for Palcohol. 

With apologies to the lyrics of The Music Man, that’s what doctors and others are saying about Palcohol, a powdered form of alcohol that Lipsmark LLC of Arizona hopes to have on store shelves as early as this fall. 

Kennon Heard, an ER doctor and medical toxicologist at the University of Colorado, told CBS News he is concerned about the risk of misuse. Snorting the substance will transmit it through the sinuses and across the blood-brain barrier to create immediate intoxication. Powder could be mixed into food or liquid in very concentrated amounts with a hazardous potency.

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Palcohol went on sale in April. Two weeks later the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rescinded approval because of an easily remedied labeling problem. That bureau’s authority to approve new alcohol products is based only on labeling and taxation, not danger to health. The FDA does not primarily regulate alcohol so nothing is likely to prevent the sale of Palcohol within a few weeks.

“With powdered alcohol on its way to store shelves by this fall, we’re sitting on a powder keg,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said. He called for the FDA to put an immediate halt to Palcohol, which he fears will soon become the “Kool-Aid of teenage binge drinking.”

Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips defends his product on the company website, emphasizing its convenience and portability for such things as camping, hiking, air travel, and cost-efficient shipping. He says no one would snort it because that would be painful and it is perfectly safe when used by its intended consumers, responsible adults. He does not address the dangers for adolescents or not-so-responsible adults.

—Julie Borg is a clinical psychologist and writer living in Dayton, Ohio

Golden solution


One million orthopedic titanium implants each year help people suffering from joint problems and bone injuries, but infections leave 27,000 of the patients needing further surgery at a cost of more than $1 billion annually. That’s why researchers found fascinating a recent article in the journal Applied Physics Letters that described how encrusting titanium medical implants with gold may inhibit infections.

Light but incredibly durable, titanium has become a staple material used to make surgical rod, pin, and plate implants for numerous orthopedic procedures such as knee and hip replacement or fractured bone repair. Titanium is corrosion resistant and our bodies’ immune systems do not reject it: The body’s natural bone and tissue bond with titanium implants. Titanium oxide has properties that can kill bacteria but only in the presence of light, not in the dark caves of the human body. 

Now, researchers have discovered that coating an implant with gold particles enables it to continue killing bacteria even in the absence of light. That’s important, because when bacteria become attached to a prosthetic implant they quickly proliferate and form a film that protects them against the immune system and antibiotics, necessitating further surgery. 

Right now officials estimate that approximately 3.5 million joint replacements will be performed by 2030. The majority of infections occur within the first year following surgical implants but can happen at any time during the life of the prosthetic. One out of 25 Medicare-funded hip and knee replacements fails within the first decade due to infection, according to Jay Parvizi, professor of orthopedics and director of research for the Rothman Institute. —J.B.

Julie Borg
Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.


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