Inhalant Abuse Increasing among 12-Year-Olds

A new national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report finds that 12-year-olds are using inhalants more than marijuana, hallucinogens, and cocaine combined.

CNN reports that inhalants are legal, cheap and easy to find in most homes: spray paint, shoe polish, glue, air fresheners, hair spray, nail polish, gasoline, aerosols, computer cleaners, even the refrigerant from air conditioners.

"We continue to face the challenge of increasing experimentation and intentional misuse of common household products among the youngest and most vulnerable segments of our population: 12-year-olds," said Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. "The data are ominous, and their implications are frightening because of the toxic, chemical effects of these legal products on growing minds and bodies."

According to the survey, 6.9 percent of 12-year-olds have "huffed," while 1.4 percent have used pot, 0.7 percent hallucinogens, and 0.1 percent cocaine. The report found that 5.2 percent smoked cigarettes.

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, director of the family medicine section of the Department of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, said it’s critical to educate adolescents about the dangers of huffing.

"Young people do not always realize the consequences of their actions. However, it is possible to die from trying inhalants even once. ‘Sudden sniffing death’ causes the heart to beat rapidly, which can result in cardiac arrest."

Kevin Talley and his wife, Deborah, know that all too well. Their 17-year-old daughter, Amber Ann Suri, died after using inhalants in February 2009.

Talley said the teenager apparently had been inhaling for six months, but by the time they began to suspect something was wrong, it was too late.

"Parents must wake up to the reality that their child might try huffing and the consequences could be devastating," said Pamela S. Hyde, administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "That’s why SAMHSA is leading the way to get information out to health care providers, kids, parents and everyone in the community so that our children hear a consistent message about the dangers of huffing."

It’s a message 17-year old Ashley Upchurch said she now takes seriously. She said she started huffing when she was 11, and has now been in recovery for two years.

"Inhalants were cheap, legal and an intense high that would also enhance the feeling I would get from other drugs," she said. "These highs nearly destroyed my life."