Thursday, October 23, 2014

Huff the Mighty Dragon

As parents we are constantly monitoring our children for warning signs of drug abuse.  We look for mood swings, alienation, changes in appetite.  We try to monitor peers and get to know whom our children are calling their friends.  We might even impose random drug tests or room searches to give ourselves peace of mind that our kids are not using drugs.

Sometimes, despite our effort, children get high.  Tragically, sometimes the end result is death.  The killer does not have to be cocaine, heroin, LSD, or any number of available illegal drugs.  No, the killer may well be a can of aerosol in your medicine cabinet.  It may the can of gas sitting in the garage you keep for the lawnmower.  Fabric protector, hair spray, paint thinner… The list goes on and on.  We are talking about huffing and it is being called the cocaine of the 90’s.

Huffing is not new. Kids have just taken it to a new and dangerous level.  I remember in grade school joking about the kid who sniffed glue.  I remember in Junior High when my cousin huffed gasoline because it may her face flush and gave her the appearance of being ill so she could stay home from school.  I remember in High School in the late 70’s when kids carried bottles of RUSH (butyl nitrate) available for purchase over the counter which momentarily impeded your flow of oxygen giving a short lived but immediate high.

My home is not excluded.  I had a teenager who experimented with huffing on several occasions.  To tell you I saw the warning signs would be a blatant lie.  I was clueless.  It wasn’t until I caught them red-handed that it hit me like a ton of bricks what they were doing.  I begged for a reason.  I felt starved for some rationale that I could grasp with my logical mindset.  They were pretty much reluctant to talk as if protecting some time honored Teen Code of Ethics but I did arrive at some conclusions. 

Huffing provides an immediate high.  The effects are usually short-term in duration and misuse is virtually undetectable in standard drug testing.  You can get high in the afternoon and still recover in time for family dinner.  You don’t have to worry about failing a drug test and getting kicked off the baseball team.  Inhalants are cheap, legal, and readily accessible.  It is estimated that over 1000 household substances are misused as inhalants.

Why all the fuss?  If inhalants are simply a means to a harmless high then why should parents be concerned?  Kids are dying that’s why.  Do you hear me mom and dad?  Kids are dying.  Inhalant abuse is a deadly game akin to Russian Roulette.  How do inhalants work?  Basically, inhalants starve the body of oxygen causing the heart to beat rapidly and erratically.  Perhaps the child will walk away with no ill effects.  Perhaps they will escape with only brain damage.  Sometimes, they don’t walk away at all.

If you think you have some time before you need to worry because your child is still an adolescent think again.  A 1997-98 survey of 26,000 schoolchildren in 22 states indicated that 6.3% of 4th graders had used inhalants in the past year.  We are talking about nine year-old children here. 

Here are some signs to look for given by the Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education:
  •  Paint or stains on face or body
  • Spots, rash or sores near mouth or nose
  • Red, glassy, watery eyes runny nose
  • Severe headaches
  • Slurred speech, staggering gait
  • Chemical odor on breath
  • Excitability or unpredictable behavior
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
There are basically three categories of inhalants.
Volatile Solvents:  Correction fluid, spray paint, glue, rubber cement, carburetor cleaners, paint thinner, nail polish remover, lighter fluid, gasoline, etc..
Gases:  Propellant gases in aerosol cans, freon, nitrous oxide (Whippets), helium
Nitrates:  Amyl nitrite (Poppers) and butyl nitrite (Locker Room, Rush, & Bolt)

Now that you know there is a problem where do you turn?  Start with the National Inhalant Prevention Center   You can also call them toll free at 800-269-4237.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)  is also an excellent resource. 

The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP)  has made a resource guide on inhalants available which can be downloaded from their site. 

Does the reality of huffing frighten me?  Yeah, it scares the hell out of me.  For you and your child’s sake, I hope it scares you too.

Until next time...


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