Pubdate: Sat, 09 Aug 2003
Source: Troy Messenger (AL)
Copyright: 2003 Troy Messenger
Author: Jaine Treadwell


More than 1,000 drugs are within easy access of youngsters and children as 
young as 6 years old are abusing them.

Seemingly harmless products, such as felt tip markers, hair spray, 
deodorant and correction fluids, can kill.

Patricia Block, M.D., Charles Henderson Child Health Center, said a growing 
number of parents have contacted the child health center with concerns 
about inhalant abuse and they have every reason to be concerned.

"Inhalants are the fourth most abused substances in the United States among 
students from grades eight through twelve," Block said. "Alcohol, 
cigarettes and marijuana are the top three. Inhalants are higher on the 
list than crack cocaine. Inhalants are readily available, cheap to purchase 
and hard to control."

Block said that inhalant abuse, commonly called huffing, is the purposeful 
inhalation of chemical vapors to achieve an altered mental or physical state.

"Most abusers get a high from the inhalants," Block said. "Euphoric 
effects. But what young people don't realize is that these inhalants are 
dangerous and can kill. Death from an inhalant can occur after a single use 
or after prolonged use."

Besides sudden cardiac arrest, huffing can kill quickly in a number of 
other ways, Block said.

"A user can die from asphyxiation, aspiration or suffocation while 
huffing," she said. "A user who is suffering from impaired judgment may 
also experience fatal injuries from motor vehicle accidents or falls."

When huffing doesn't kill quickly, it damages the body each time and can 
cause memory loss, impaired concentration, loss of coordination and 
permanent damage. Chronic inhalant abuse may result in serious and 
sometimes irreversible damage to the user's heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, 
and brain, Block said.

"Once a young person becomes addicted to inhalants, it is very difficult to 
get them off," she said. "It is all but impossible without professional 
help. Even then, it's difficult because inhalants are everywhere. They 
can't be controlled."

Block said inhalants are breathed in through the nose or mouth in a variety 
of ways.

"Abusers begin by inhaling deeply," she said. "They then take several more 
breaths. Abusers may inhale by sniffing or snorting chemical vapors 
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 in the mouth."

Abusers may spray aerosols directly into the nose or mouth.

"Any spray can be used as an inhalant," Block said. "Even cans that contain 
products as seemingly harmless as whipping cream have been used inhalants. 
In some instances, the whipping cream is still inside. So, a can does not 
have to be empty to be used as an inhalant."

Inhalants may also be poured on the the user's collar, sleeves or cuffs and 
sniffed over a period of time.

"Students can have an inhalant on their clothing and be huffing in class 
and a teacher might never know," Block said. "So, parents and teachers need 
to be aware of the widespread use of inhalants and discuss this type of 
substance abuse with their children. Peer pressure plays a big role in this 
type of substance abuse and children too often are not aware of the dangers.

"About 22 percent of those who die from inhalants do so the first time they 
huff. Alabama is among the states with the highest percentage of inhalant 
abuse - number six - and one of only four states that have not recognized 
the problem of inhalant abuse."

The signs of inhalant abuse are often mistaken for colds or allergies.

"The signs that can easily be overlooked are a runny nose and red, itching 
eyes," Block said. "These are also symptoms of allergies and colds and 
missed as signs of inhalant abuse. Parents, teachers and even doctors can 
miss these signs."

However, other signs are more tell-tale.

"Nausea or loss of appetite, sore or rash around the nose or mouth can be 
signs of inhalant abuse," Block said. "These signs should be taken seriously."

A drunk or disoriented appearance or slurred speech should put parents or 
teachers on alert. Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and 
chemical-soaked rags or clothing are red flag warnings, as are signs of 
paint or other products where they would not normally be.

"If a child has chemical odors on their breath or clothing, that's a 
certain sign that a child is huffing," Block said. "Inhalant abuse is a 
very serious problem and it is affecting our children - our young children. 
Parents and teachers need to be aware of the growing problem and be alert 
to any signs that might indicate abuse.

"If a parent suspects that his or her child is using inhalants, it is very 
important that they seek professional help without delay."
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