Remember, as a kid, being curious about the strong smell of
rubber cement or permanent markers? Perhaps you took a deep whiff,
and noticed the brief head spin afterwards?
Most children show such curiosity, using their sense of smell to
explore the world. But for an estimated 15 percent of youth, this
casual interest turns to intentionally trying to get high by
inhaling everyday products.
Kids can become addicted, suffer brain damage or worse. McHenry
County teen Aaron Hunt recently died after huffing propane fumes,
just a few months before his high school graduation.
A new study, published in Pediatrics, analyzed data from poison
control centers nationwide to find that youth are abusing roughly
3,400 products. From gasoline to typewriter correction fluid, from
paint thinner to helium, the products are easy for kids to
Nitrous oxide, which is one of the top causes of death of youth
who inhale, can be found in the chargers used to make whipping
cream. Butane is used in cigarette lighters. Air freshener, another
top killer, can be found just about anywhere.
Some products contain warning labels about the risks of
inhaling, but the most effective tool to combat abuse is community
awareness, says Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National
Inhalant Prevention Coalition. Weiss has seen abuse rates drop
significantly in communities when school administrators, community
leaders and parents understand the dangers.
According to the study, the highest number of inhalant abuse
incidents were reported in 14- and 15-year-olds, but children as
young as 6 may experiment with inhalants. That's why parents need
to talk about the dangers early, Weiss says.
"Every parent gives the poison lecture: If you're not supposed
to drink or eat something, don't." The same conversation can
include inhaling too, he says. "If you're not supposed to
intentionally smell something, don't do that either."
The study also showed a higher number of boys abusing inhalants,
but Weiss says other data reveals girls are just as likely to try
inhalants, especially at younger ages.
"Part of the attraction of the high is that it is short-lived
and kids feel it's something they can control," he says. "They can
do it between classes in the restroom or even in the house if the
parents are unaware."
Inhalants can be especially attractive to youth who have been
caught trying illegal drugs, he says, because routine drug tests
can't detect inhalants. The signs of inhalant abuse can be similar
to drug use, including sudden weight loss, irritability and changes
in friendships or school performance.
Weiss advises watching for a rash around the nose or mouth, or
marks on the hands such as spray paint or correction fluid. Keep an
eye on what kids watch, too: Weiss says YouTube has occasionally
contained videos of teens inhaling substances.
In essence, he says, just keep talking to your kids and your
community leaders and stay aware. "Take a look around your house
and see what things kids might experiment with," he says.
Lisa Applegate is a freelance writer and mom of one living in Chicago.
See more of Lisa's stories here.
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