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Drug Abuse Under Our Noses -- Huffing


Inhalant abuse, commonly called huffing, is the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors to achieve an altered mental or physical state,

In a study issued by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the number of inhalant abusers, also known as "huffers", rose approximately 158 percent from 1990 to 1999. In numbers, that means from 392,000 abusers to 1,010,000 or more. The most saddening aspect of this is that the primary user group is children from the age of 12 to 17. Over 636,000 children had tried inhalants for the first time in 1999.

This number is almost double that of the 18-25 year-old user group, and statistics showing higher use among eighth-graders may be due to the fact that frequent inhalant abusers typically drop out of school and consequently do not participate in the tenth and twelfth grade surveys. It doesn’t necessarily mean that use of inhalants drops after kids turn 18.

What are inhalants?

Technically, they are any sort of vapor which can be inhaled: huffers use a vast range of substances and in fact chemical vapors used as inhalants can be found in over 1,000 common household products. The general categories are:

- Aerosols – such as spray paint, deodorant, hair products, cooking products (spray oils) and fabric protectors. Any product which contains propellants and solvents such as toluene - one of the most common solvents found in aerosols - can be used.

- Volatile solvents – liquids that vaporize at room temperature if left in unsealed containers, such as paint thinners, gasoline, correction fluid, felt-tip markers, nail polish and remover, and glues, such as rubber cement.

- Gases – substances that lack definite shape or volume, such as refrigerants and medical anesthetics. Abusers frequently inhale gases found in butane lighters, air conditioning units and propane tanks.

- Nitrites – often available in adult bookstores and shops, as well as over the Internet, and a form of which is found in room deodorizers. These are also sometimes called poppers, or snappers.

In 2000, 18 percent of eighth graders, 17 percent of tenth graders and 14 percent of twelfth graders reported having abused inhalants at some time in their life.

How can parents recognize inhalant abuse?

- Drunk or disoriented appearance
- Paint or other stains on face, hands or clothing
- Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
- Slurred speech
- Strong chemical odors on breath or clothing
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Red or runny nose
- Sores or rash around the nose or mouth

Parents are often the last to know, often thinking that their children are too young to be experimenting with drug use. They are unaware of the many sources children can find right within their homes, leaving them, the parents, with a false sense of awareness and responsibility with regard to their children’s actions."

While inhalants are of particular concern amongst children, adults, too abuse them.  According to the same NDIC study, an analysis of 144 death certificates from Texas involving abuse or misuse of inhalants from 1988 to 1998 shows that the average age of those who died from inhalant use was 25.6. Ages, however, ranged from as young as 8 to as old as 62. In the Texas study, the most frequent cause of death was from Freon. Freon is most commonly found in air-cooling equipment (refrigerators, air conditioners), but is also used as a common propellant in aerosol cans.

Parents who are aware of the way that inhalants are used will be more likely to spot children who are ‘huffing'. As the name infers, the person uses inhalants by breathing them through the nose and/or mouth in a variety of ways. They may inhale the chemical vapor directly from open containers or by huffing fumes from rags that are soaked in a chemical substance and then held to the face or stuffed into the mouth. Other methods include spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth or pouring inhalants onto the user’s collar, sleeves or cuffs and sniffing them over a period of time (such as during a class in school). "Bagging" is a common practice, wherein fumes are inhaled from a paper or plastic bag in which substances have been sprayed or deposited. Fumes can also be discharged into small containers such as soda cans and then inhaled from the can.

Effects of inhalant abuse are many.

Abusers initially feel a rapid euphoric effect, then drowsiness, lightheadedness and agitation. Users also often experience a lessening of inhibitions. The chemicals found in volatile solvents, aerosols and gases produce a variety of additional effects that can include strong hallucinations, delusions, belligerence and apathy. Long-term inhalant abusers usually suffer from weight loss, muscle weakness, disorientation, lack of coordination, irritability and depression. Withdrawal symptoms include sweating, rapid pulse, hand tremors, insomnia, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations and in severe cases grand mal seizures.

Chronic abusers can suffer from serious and sometimes irreversible damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and brain. Brain damage may result in personality changes, diminished cognitive functioning, memory impairment and slurred speech.

What parents don’t realize is that death can occur after a single use, or after prolonged use. Sudden sniffing death (SSD) may result within minutes of abuse from irregular hearth rhythm leading to heart failure. Other causes of death include asphyxiation, aspiration or suffocation. Deaths may also occur as a result of automobile accidents caused by user impairment, as well as falls, etc. caused by the chemicals. Being alert to the signs of usage and being willing to take quick and effective action are key to helping our children avoid the horrific damage that can occur with this particular type of chemical abuse.

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