Pubdate: Sun, 25 Sep 2005
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2005 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Peter Schworm,  Globe Staff
Bookmark: (Youth)


Abuse Of Dust-Off Can Prove Fatal, Authorities Say

Generations of teenagers have sniffed common household products -- 
from glue to Whiteout to the propane in cigarette lighters -- for a 
cheap, easy route to  intoxication. But the danger posed by the 
latest inhalant of choice, a common  computer keyboard cleaner called 
"Dust-Off," has prompted area police to warn  parents and teens that 
the "high" could be fatal. Inhaling the compressed gas can cause 
brain damage and heart failure by robbing the lungs of oxygen, authorities say.

In March, a 14-year-old boy from Ohio was found dead in his bed with 
a canister beside him. His death has received wide attention after 
his father, a police sergeant, posted a cautionary letter on the 
Internet that has caught the notice of police, educators, and parents.

Last summer, three California teenagers died in a car crash, and a 
can of Dust-Off was found inside the vehicle. In July, a teenager 
passed out in a West Hartford, Conn., drugstore after inhaling 
Dust-Off, then arose moments later to  do it again, according to 
newspaper reports.

In response, Falcon Safety Products, the maker of Dust-Off, released 
a statement citing the dangers of inhalant abuse and highlighting its 
efforts to combat the problem. Many stores, including Staples and 
Wal-Mart,  have banned sales of the product to minors.

"One beer is not going to kill you under almost any circumstances, 
but with sniffing, you never know," said Patrolman Timothy O'Leary, 
the Foxborough Police  Department's juvenile officer.

Foxborough is among the area departments that have circulated a 
Dust-Off warning. After receiving a Massachusetts Chiefs of Police 
Association advisory this summer, O'Leary passed it along to local 
school officials. Teenagers "huffing" vapors -- or, in the case of 
Dust-Off, "dusting" -- is a long-standing problem. Although inhalant 
abuse declined after the mid-1990s,  it has accelerated of late, 
youth surveys show. According to a 2003 study by the  Partnership for 
a Drug-Free America, use among middle school students had risen  by 
44 percent as fewer youngsters viewed inhalant use as dangerous. 
Roughly one in four eighth-graders reported trying an inhalant at 
least once, the survey found, while the practice declined in high 
school, with older teens  beginning to dismiss it as childish.

Alejandro Rivera, program director for Impact Quincy, a 
substance-abuse prevention program, calls inhalant use "the silent 
epidemic" because it  receives less attention than teen drug or alcohol use.

Most teens and parents don't appreciate the dangers of inhalants, 
authorities say. Ashli Doyle, a Weymouth High School junior, said 
teenagers are aware inhalants aren't good for them, but some feel the 
rush is worth it. "People will talk about using air fresheners and 
other aerosols and say, 'Oh man, we were so messed up,' " Doyle said. 
"They think they are being cool, trying something new."

Parents do not typically discuss inhalants with their children, 
focusing instead on drugs and alcohol. And there is some disagreement 
on how much of a problem is posed by inhalants, with many area police 
departments and school counselors contending its use is limited.

Bill Phillips, who talks with students and parents across the state 
about the dangers of drug and inhalant abuse through his 
Framingham-based program, "New  Beginnings," said adults are stunned 
when he tells them middle-schoolers are  breathing vapors just for 
kicks. "Parents go out of their minds that kids would  go to those 
lengths to get high," he said. "Dust-Off is the most extreme." 
Phillips said he has worked with area teenagers who have entered 
rehabilitation facilities solely to kick inhalant habits. Parents' 
ignorance carries a cost, experts say. If not explicitly told 
otherwise, youngsters often see inhalants as mindless fun without 
serious consequences.

"One of the difficulties in inhalant abuse is that youngsters see 
them as otherwise legal products," said Michael Botticelli, assistant 
commissioner for substance abuse services at the state Department of 
Public Health. But while the  products are legal to obtain, inhaling 
them is against the law, he noted. Inhalants are alluring to 
youngsters for other reasons, too. "There's no odor, no residue. It's 
much harder to get caught," said Howard Wolfe, who directs the New 
England Inhalant Abuse Prevention Coalition, which works with 
schools, the courts, and youth groups. "It's a way to use a drug 
without getting involved in a drug deal. With inhalants, you can just 
go to a drugstore."

Dominic DiNatale, executive director of DARE Massachusetts, a drug 
education program offered by local police departments, said he 
believes the use of inhalants is far more widespread in more rural 
areas, as surveys have suggested. "We know it's out there, but no one 
really talks about it," he said. The practice claims more than 100 
lives a year nationwide, according to Harvey Weiss, executive 
director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. "Everyone's 
talking about meth right now," he said, referring to the stimulant 
methamphetamine, "but far more people are using inhalants." Jeff 
Williams, the Cleveland-area police sergeant whose son died of 
chemical asphyxiation in March after using Dust-Off, said the teen 
didn't think he was doing anything especially wrong or dangerous.

"Kyle had been told by friends that it couldn't hurt him," Williams 
said. "He thought it was just a playful thing."

Williams said the coroner's report concluded that Kyle's heart 
stopped immediately after he had inhaled the Dust-Off, with a 
chemical in the product found in his bloodstream.

He said he hoped Kyle's death warns people to the dangers of 
inhalants, and pointed to the many e-mails he has received from 
teachers who had read his letter to their classes, and from students 
who said they had tried inhalants but never would again.

Those messages provide some small measure of consolation to a father 
who said he consistently reminded his son about the dangers of drug 
use. "Kyle knew never to do drugs," Williams said. "He just didn't 
know not to do  this."
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