Inhalant abuse kills with little public attention
March 22, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This week is National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week, declared by Congress to give Americans an opportunity to learn more about a form of substance abuse that get little public attention.
Almost one out of every five adolescents has used an inhalant to get high, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's 1993 Monitoring the Future study of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade students.
The institute's survey, in fact, suggests that only alcohol, tobacco and marijuana get more use among children under 18.
Even so, few people are aware of the problem -- or the serious dangers associated with inhaling substances that are readily available in most households.
Cleaning fluids, gasoline, nail polish and nail polish remover, spray cans of paint and even whipped cream, some felt tipped pens and typewriter correction fluids -- all contain volatile hydrocarbons that can cause heart failure after as little as one use.
"We are unwitting pushers in our own homes. They're under every kitchen sink, they're under our bathroom sinks," says Susan Wilson Tucker, whose daughter Jennifer was a passenger in a car driven by an inhalant sniffing acquaintance. He blacked out, lost control and slammed head on into another vehicle. Jennifer was killed.
"I made her a promise, that I would be out there, that I would do everything I could to prevent this from happening to someone else," Tucker says.
She did. She waged a practically one-woman campaign to get the Georgia General Assembly to pass legislation making it illegal to drive under the influence of inhalants.
Stopping the growth of inhalant abuse, say both Tucker and many experts on the subject, begins at home.
"I think it's important mostly for kids to be told by their parents (of the dangers)," says Dr. Mark Fishman, a professor at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and medical director of Mountain Manor treatment center in Maryland.
Parents should know the warning signs of inhalant use, and learn as much as they can about sniffing, huffing (inhalant-soaked rag in the mouth) and bagging (fumes inhaled from a plastic bag).
"We talk about drugs, and we talk about alcohol, but we don't know about sniffing," says Tucker.
And what's not known about sniffing can kill -- or cause serious heart, kidney, brain, liver and bone marrow damage.
Parents need to be aware, alert and ready to talk, says Boysie Holtman, who is recovering from heroin addiction at Mountain Manor.
"Explain what drugs can do to them, and what drugs can do to their family, and what drugs can do to their childhood," says Holtman, whose addiction began, he says, with a daily sniffing habit.
National Inhalant Prevention Coalition
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