Question of the Week

April 24, 2006


"Slang--Glue, Kick, Bang, Sniff, Huff, Poppers, Whippets, Texas Shoeshine..."

Whatever you want to call them, inhalants have proven to be a popular choice because they are cheap and easy to find. Unfortunately, they are also surprisingly unpredictable... and have been known to kill first time users and veterans alike.

"It was the day after Halloween when Erica Knoll's body was found by her sister in the bedroom of their home in Bowie, Md. Beside her lay a can of Dust-Off computer spray, which Erica had 'huffed,' or inhaled, to get high. David Manlove, 16, of Indianapolis, took his last breath four years ago after he inhaled a generic computer duster. Manlove inhaled the substance through a straw while underwater in a pool because it was supposed to intensify the high. Jimmy Smith died at 17. He had been inhaling butane that powered a hand torch he used to make computers in the garage of his Avon Lake, Ohio, home. Such tragic deaths are part of an alarming trend among American teens who are searching for the easiest and cheapest way to get high. While computer cleaners like Dust-Off may be the inhalant of choice, experts say more than 1,000 household products can be used to get high--sometimes to deadly effect."

Why are inhalants so dangerous?

"Inhalants affect your brain. Inhalants are substances or fumes from products such as glue or paint thinner that are sniffed or 'huffed' to cause an immediate high. Because they affect your brain with much greater speed and force than many other substances, they can cause irreversible physical and mental damage before you know what's happened. "Inhalants affect your heart. Inhalants starve the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat irregularly and more rapidly--that can be dangerous for your body.

"Inhalants damage other parts of your body. People who use inhalants can experience nausea and nosebleeds; develop liver, lung, and kidney problems; and lose their sense of hearing or smell. Chronic use can lead to muscle wasting and reduced muscle tone and strength.

"Inhalants can cause sudden death. Inhalants can kill you instantly. Inhalant users can die by suffocation, choking on their vomit, or having a heart attack."

While users are looking for a quick high, they may not see the side effects as something that could ever happen to them... or they may not even be aware of how dangerous "huffing" can be.

"* Inhalants make you feel giddy and confused, as if you were drunk. Long-time users get headaches, nosebleeds, and may suffer loss of hearing and sense of smell.
* Inhalants are the most likely of abused substances to cause severe toxic reaction and death. Using inhalants, even one time, can kill you."

Some teens (and kids) are experimenting, or just "messing around" with friends. Unfortunately, "Using inhalants, even one time, can kill you..."

"Inhalant abuse can start in elementary school and continue throughout adolescence. For some kids, inhalants are a cheap and accessible alternative to alcohol. Inhalants are often among the first drugs that young kids use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of new
inhalant users reached 1 million in 2002. In 2004, more than 17 percent of American eighth-graders reported abusing inhalants at least once."

Roughly one out of every six eighth graders "reported abusing inhalants at least once..." While this number may seem to some like "everybody's doing it," five out of six eight graders reported that they had NOT abused inhalants even once. This is good, because...

"Once hooked, kids who abuse inhalants face additional health risks, including:
* Depression
* Depletion of oxygen in the blood, which leads to weakness and fatigue
* Loss of feeling, hearing and vision
* Damage to the brain, bone marrow, liver and kidneys
Some of these effects are reversible, but many are not -- including hearing loss and brain damage. ... Sometimes, death from inhalant abuse occurs indirectly. For example, a teenager may sniff inhalants, get behind the wheel and end up in a fatal car crash."

Finally, for those who are not to be swayed by the direct or indirect health risks, criminal charges await those who are found 'huffing' in some states.

"Two of the teens were hospitalized, and all six now face criminal charges under a new state 'huffing' law. ... A Columbia County sheriff's deputy came upon two of the teens, who appeared to be intoxicated on the sidewalks of Wyocena. ... Authorities told News 3 the teens led police to a nearby home where four others had also been huffing the compressed gas to get a cheap high, despite clear warnings on cans saying such acts could be deadly. Last
October, a Door County mother whose son died from huffing led a crusade to get the act on the books as a crime. It is called Aaron's law, named after the son she tragically lost. 'We want young people to know this isn't just some innocent and little way to have fun, [but] that they're seriously endangering their health and their lives,' said Gov. Jim Doyle."

Questions of the Week:
What did you know about inhalants prior to reading this? What do you think your peers, siblings, and/ or family members know about inhalants? Why do you think that some people ignore the warning labels on products and misuse them as inhalants? What would make these warning labels more effective? What do teens, children, and parents need to know about inhalants? If you were placed in charge of creating an advertising campaign, how would you educate teens, children, and/ or parents about the risks of inhalant use? How would you alter the way you presented the information to best reach each of the different groups?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site