Jan 6, 2006

Bag Boys: Inhalant Abuse Among Teens


“Jason” is a twenty something Toledoan who is a former abuser of inhalants. He agreed to an interview with a request for anonymity.

“This isn’t exactly the thing you want to broadcast,” he said. “I have a job and parents, and I’m sure that they would not want to see me in the paper like this.”

Media attention to drug abuse tends to focus on illegal substances like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.

Little notice, however, is paid to a growing underground phenomenon, chiefly among teenagers. Inhalant abuse, or “huffing,” utilizes common household products such as glue, nail polish remover, spray paint, deodorant, whipped cream canisters, and cleaning fluids.

Jason said that he began the habit at age 15, starting by huffing gasoline.

“That’s a harsh buzz, but it’s cheap and easy to get,” he said. “It gives you hallucinations like LSD.”

One of the most popular inhalants, according to Jason, is a computer keyboard cleaner called Duster.

“We called it getting ‘dusted’,” he said. “It makes you completely numb, like laughing gas.”

One method of getting high with inhalants involves filling a paper bag with the contents of an aerosol can. Jason said that this solves two problems.

“With a bag, you can keep the fumes contained,” he said. “Plus, you don’t get paint or whatever else is in the can all over your face.”

The Hidden Crisis

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 22.9 million Americans have abused inhalants. More startling is the data on teenagers, as a NIDA study concluded that 17.3% of the nation’s 8th graders have abused inhalants.

Three percent of US fourth graders have already “huffed,” beginning what for some will be a lifelong career as addicts.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that there were 979,000 new abusers of inhalants in 2000, and that the nation’s emergency rooms see thousands of cases of inhalant abuse each year.

Jason, who attended Bedford and Toledo Public schools, said that many people are unaware of how common huffing is.

“At least 20 percent of the kids I went to school with huffed,” he said. “It was even worse in Toledo, because a lot of girls use in Toledo.”

James Perrin, program manager of Connecting Point’s residential unit, said that inhalant abuse is a significant problem in Northwest Ohio.

“We have seen teenagers who started as young as 11,” he said, adding that his facility works with children 13 and older. “Huffing is common because because kids can just look in mom’s pantry and find all sorts of ways to get high.”

Abuse of inhalants cuts across most demographic boundaries, and is both an urban and rural problem. The only common denominators are a history of childhood abuse, difficulties in school, and relative poverty.

Jason said that inhalant abusers can be hard to spot.

“In school kids used to keep Whiteout bottles in their desk,” he said. “Some used to soak their sleeves in lighter fluid and sniff.”

Another method, according to Perrin, involves dipping a rag in gasoline.

“They keep the rag with them and inhale from the rag,” he said. “That way there is no obvious sign of abuse.”

Perrin said that users also tend to have concurrent mental health issues.

“Many abuse inhalants to escape,” he said. “Huffing can also lead abuse of illegal street drugs -often the kids are doing other drugs such as marijuana or alcohol.”

Jason agreed that inhalants can be a gateway drug.

“Huffing is definitely a gateway,” he said. “Once you start with something hard like huffing, you will try almost anything. I graduated from huffing to pot, coke, and almost anything you can imagine.”

Physical Destruction

While no drug is without its long- and short-term side effects, perhaps no behavior is more injurious to the human body than huffing.

Immediate consequences include asphyxiation, choking, seizures, and coma. Medical practitioners have developed a new term in response to the deaths of huffers: “sudden sniffing death syndrome.” The syndrome can occur in seemingly healthy teenagers as early as the first experience.

A 17-year old California teen named Josh Edmond died this month from the syndrome, overdosing from intoxicants inhaled from a keyboard cleaner called Blastaway.

Perrin said that many inhalant abusers are not recognized as such until an emergency.

“Many of our kids come to us after a trip to the ER,” he said. “They get brought to the hospital because they passed out or for a toxin-related illness.”

Abusers who avoid instantaneous death face severe long-term effects, including damage to the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver. Researchers have also documented many cases of hearing and vision loss, and extensive inhalant abuse can induce severe dementia.

Jason said that he knew people who went through detox programs for their inhalant habits.

“One kid I knew had to go through an inpatient treatment place,” he said. “He could not stop getting high.”

Connecting Point’s Perrin said that inhalant abuse tends to be highly addictive.

“It is difficult to break the habit because inhalants are everywhere,” he said. “Even if parents lock up all aerosols, all kids have to do is go to a friend’s house or steal a few cans.”

New research has also shown a link between inhalant abuse and destruction of the body’s immune system, and other researchers are exploring links between huffing and cancer.

Jason said that teens disregard the dangers of huffing for a variety of reasons.

“First of all, they are just stupid,” he said of huffing’s harmful effects. “They think that nothing bad will ever happen to them, and they just like the feeling.”

Peer pressure, according to Jason, is also a factor.

“It’s just like any drug – if you are around people doing it, you will join in,” he said. “Pass a bottle, pass a joint, or pass the bag – it’s all the same.”

This is an extended version of an article I wrote for the Toledo Free Press in July.


Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at what people will do to destroy their bodies.

Do said...

In the mid 60's the rage was huffing brake fluid, transmission fluid, gasoline, kerosene and melted down puddles of Vicks Vaporub. The petroleum distillates in these products was intense at that time. I do believe the EPA and other agencies have decreased the concentrations over the years.

The petroleun distillates can cause instant alveolar collapse, especially in people with even mildly compromised respiratory systems. A person with chronic asthma (instead of allergic rhinitis) can be dead in just a couple minutes.

Typically the chronic huffer will manifest with tissue changes inside the lips, nares, and sclera. They will be faint at first, but if one is paying attention you will notice immediately when a person speaks that the tissue inside his lips/mouth will slough. It's not a pretty sight.

Another old 'temporary intoxicant' was Primatene inhalers. But that's a whole different animal in symptoms and results.

Good article Mike! Brought back lots of old 'studies' that I hadn't though of in years.

historymike said...

Yes, scary stuff, Do.

I never ventured down the road of huffing (save for nitrous oxide, tanks of which used to find its way to parties when I was in my teens).

The "studies" of which you speak are ultimately such a useless detour. I wish that there was an effective way to communicate the wisdom that intoxicants and altered consciousness are a waste of time and brain cells; unfortunately, most people have to learn the hard way.

It makes you want to grab people by the shoulder and say: "LOOK! This will lead you to unproductive places, and you wll want all that time back one day!"

Of course, doing so would just cause that person to back away. Slowly...

Anonymous said...

With his dark hair, and hook nose in a bag, this jew is gassing itself. Let it die.

historymike said...

Wow, absolutely brilliant analysis, anonymous.

With astupidity like that it is no wonder you refuse to post your own name.

Do said...

Mike, don't misunderstand the 'studies' reference. I was taking some rather interesting classes at the time and during clinical trials I saw enough of that kind of stuff to last a lifetime.

Self destructive behavior is usually a cry for help. The larger problem is that it goes unnoticed until it is too late for many.

It's cyclical, it's chronic and most of all it's hidden. Sad. Just sad.

Inhalant abuse said...

Petrol inhalation is called as intentional inhalation of several volatile chemicals and gases to experience a desired sense of intoxication. Youngsters are doing it more. It is drug abuse. It is very harmful for pregnant women. One should not practice this.