Pubdate: Wed, 22 Mar 2000
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Orange County Register
Contact:  P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711
Fax: (714) 565-3657
Author: Mayrav Saar and Bill Rams


DRUGS: A 12-year-old Huntington Beach boy dies after inhaling aerosols.
Many kids and families are unaware of the risk.

They do it because they're curious. Because the "waa-waaa" sound in their
ears makes them giggle. They inhale aerosol spray or suck the nitrous oxide
from whipped-cream cans because they don't think it will hurt them.

But this week, children at Vista View Middle School in Huntington Beach
learned that "huffing" can kill them.

Sixth-grader Tyler James Pinnick, 12, died Saturday night after passing out
at his great-grandmother's house from huffing, or inhaling the strong
chemicals in aerosol cans for a quick high.

A 1998 survey by the state Attorney General's Office list-ed inhalants as
the most popular illicit drug among seventh-graders, with 18 percent having
used them. And the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition says one in five
U.S. eighth-graders have huffed.

Kids consider gases to be safer than "real" drugs and are often more
inclined to try them, said James Gibbs, 24, a resident of Phoenix House
drug rehabilitation center.

"In my 10 years of doing drugs, the only person I knew to die was using
nitrous oxide," said Gibbs, whose inhalant and marijuana use led to
methamphetamine abuse. "It is real and people die."

By inhaling gases from aerosol cans, huffers limit the oxygen entering the
body. This leads to blackouts and, over time, brain damage and shrinkage.

Some propellants also cause irregular heart rhythms, which can result in
heart attacks, said Anthony Manoguerra, director of the San Diego division
of the California Poison Control System.

"If two kids came up to me and said would you rather I use inhalants or
smoke marijuana, I'd say smoke marijuana," Manoguerra said. "Not that I
advocate smoking marijuana, but the chemicals are that dangerous."

Tyler is the first Orange County child to die from huffing since October
1997, when Bolsa Grande High School student Kelly Herndon died after
inhaling butane, coroner's officials said.

Phoenix House directors said they have seen a rise in Orange County
inhalant use, and the Santa Ana Police Department has included inhalants in
its DARE program curriculum for the past few years.

But Tyler's mother and teachers said they didn't know that household items
could be used like drugs.

"I had never heard of huffing before this," Renee Sherer, Tyler's mother,
said between sobs Tuesday. "There was not one piece of evidence that he was
doing this. No reason for me to think it. No empty aerosol cans. Nothing."

The only clue came about two weeks ago, and she didn't recognize it at the

Some of Tyler's friends had visited the house. Each carried a can of
whipped cream. Tyler asked Sherer for $2 so he could buy one, too.

"It's not gonna hurt me," he told her. "It's good."

Sherer said she didn't think twice. Now she suspects the children were

"He didn't have a chance," she said. "He didn't have a chance to learn that
this stuff is so dangerous and it stops your heart and lungs."

But kids don't think about that when their friends show them how to do it,
said Rita Oberhofer, whose son, Garrett Oberhofer, 22, suffers from
drug-induced psychosis as a result of inhaling air-conditioner freon four
years ago.

"Kids see it like inhaling helium from a balloon to change their voices,"
Oberhofer said.

Adding to inhalants' danger, experts say, is the fact that they are legal
and prevalent: Tyler found the inhalants that killed him at his
great-grandmother's house.

Laverne Spence was watching the Julia Roberts movie "Dying Young" about 8
p.m. Saturday when Tyler asked to use her bathroom. After 10 minutes,
Spence heard a great thud.

She tried to push the door open but couldn't at first. Then she shoved
harder and found her great-grandson sprawled across the floor, his eyelids
and arms fluttering. Cans of potpourri Glade and Lysol lay near his feet.

She called the paramedics and tried to check his pulse.

Though his heart was re-started, he died about an hour later at Hoag
Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.

Police suspect that the boy emptied two aerosol cans onto a pink towel,
pressed it to his face and inhaled deeply.

Tyler's death came on the eve of National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness
Week and a week after three girls in Oklahoma died from huffing, National
Inhalant Prevention Coalition executive director Harvey Weiss said.

"Kids don't know the dangers of it," Weiss said. "And the parents
themselves or the schools are the dealers."

Tyler had a $20,000 trust set up for him after his grandfather's death. His
family is considering using the money to educate children about the dangers
of huffing.

Vista View Middle School Principal Katherine Bihr said huffing likely will
be incorporated into drug-prevention education, but it was something she
had not heard of before Tyler's death.

After school, some students said they didn't know anybody who huffed -- but
they did hear kids talking about it.

"Some people think it's cool to sniff stuff," said Jamie Quarles, a
sixth-grader. "They think it's cool, but it's not."
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