Powdered Alcohol Poses Risks, Physicians Caution

Testimony by Jennifer Rzadkowolski, MD

Senate Committee on Business and Commerce
Testimony on Senate Bill 896 by Sen. Kel Seliger 

March 27, 2017

Chairman Hancock and members of the committee, my name is Dr. Jennifer Rzadkowolski, and I am a practicing emergency physician from Austin. I am here today representing the Texas Medical Association and the Texas College of Emergency Physicians, representing more than 50,000 physicians and medical students. On behalf of our membership, I would like to express our support for Senate Bill 896 related to the potential impact powdered alcohol may have on alcohol use in Texas. 

Though powdered alcohol is not yet on any liquor store shelves in the United States, this product has attracted much attention among public health officials and physicians. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in 2015 approved product labeling for several variations of a product under the brand name Palcohol. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), TTB, which has the authority to review the formulation and labeling of distilled spirits products, consulted with the agency to review the nonalcoholic ingredients. FDA concluded that the use of ingredients complies with federal regulations. Powdered alcohol is encapsulated into powder using a sugar derivative base, which can absorb alcohol but will remain a powdery base.

The creation of powdered alcohol dates back to the 1800s, when product development was aimed mainly at the food industry as a food additive. Though the product was never sold, starting in the 1970s, industry research expanded to powdered alcohol’s use as a base for alcoholic beverages. At that time, several states passed laws regulating the sale of powdered alcohol.

Physicians join others throughout the country in sharing our concern about the potential sale of powdered alcohol products, but our focus is on the risk for abuse or binge use among adolescents. While there has been a decrease in alcohol use by Texas teens in the past 10 years, alcohol continues to be the leading substance abused among Texas high school students. Texas still leads all other states in the number of alcohol-impaired fatalities and in alcohol-impaired driving (2014 Traffic Safety Fact Sheet, NHTSA). Almost 9 percent of the 639 Texas drivers who died in an automobile collision were under the age of 21 and under the influence of alcohol (DUI Drivers in Fatal Crashes by Driver Age, TxDOT, 2015). From 2006 to 2010, excessive alcohol use caused an average of 372 deaths in Texas for people under age 21 (Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact, CDC). According to the most recent national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (of those who had driven a car in the 30 days before the survey), almost a third of our children had drunk alcohol. A high school student who drinks alcohol, texts while driving, or uses marijuana contributes to the leading causes of death for those aged 10-24 years. And a young person drinking alcohol also is more likely to become involved in harmful behavior such as smoking, driving while intoxicated, or high-risk sexual activity.  

The promotion of alcohol products can be particularly effective among youth. National surveillance studies (e.g., Alcohol Advertising Compliance and Cable Television, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2015) have shown that the more young people are exposed to marketing on alcohol, the more likely they are to begin using alcohol or increase their alcohol use.  

A national survey on substance use notes that 40 percent of Texas high school students used alcohol at least once in the previous 30 days. At least one-third of them obtained the alcohol from someone who gave it to them, or they rode with a driver who had been drinking (Office of Adolescent Health, Texas Substance Abuse Data, DHHS, 2011). 

As physicians, we know that teens and adolescents often are more willing than adults to take risks and experiment with dangerous activities. They may be more willing to add powdered alcohol to other alcoholic beverages, thereby increasing the concentration. Powdered alcohol would be easy to conceal from parents or law enforcement. In other words, powdered alcohol seems to have the characteristics of a product young people would embrace. 

Closing

The potential for powdered alcohol products to cause harm raises numerous concerns. This is especially troubling as physicians recognize the need to continue addressing underage alcohol use throughout Texas. 

Physicians and public health often follow a principle of precaution when guiding decisions about products or environmental changes that may harm our patients. We must continue to monitor powdered alcohol, keeping in mind that alcohol use by children is a current contributor to death and disability in our state and much more so than in other states. 

Drug and alcohol use trends can emerge quickly and can vary among communities. Physicians do play an important role in informing our young patients about the risks associated with substance use, including alcohol. However, because we don’t yet know the impact of the availability of powdered alcohol products, Texas must monitor any eventual sale, marketing, or use of powdered alcohol and recommend actions to limit access to it and potential harmful outcomes.

States alone have the responsibility to adopt policies to prevent underage alcohol use. Powdered alcohol presents another option for increasing underage alcohol use. Your support for Senate Bill 896 is an opportunity to assess the appropriate levels of protection and regulation to prevent underage drinking. Thank you for the opportunity to comment today, and I am happy to answer questions at this time.

Testimony main page

TMA Legislative main page

Last Updated On

March 27, 2017

Related Content

Public Health | Texas legislation