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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Abuse of inhalants a nationwide problem

By Kathleen Fackelmann
USA Today

A 2000 survey of drug use found that more than 2 million kids and teens in the United States reported sniffing glue or other dangerous inhalants to get high at least once in their life, according to a new government report.

That 2 million figure — about 9 percent of the 23 million Americans ages 12 to 17 — may underestimate the problem. Many kids start huffing before age 12, some as early as age 7, says H. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Huffing, or inhaling the intoxicating vapors found in some common household products, can be dangerous for regular users as well as for those who've never tried huffing before, Clark says. "It's like playing Russian roulette," he says, noting that the chemicals in the vapors can trigger an irregular heartbeat that can kill suddenly and without warning.

Glue, shoe polish and paint thinners were the most popular products used to get high, according to 12-to-17-year-old Americans interviewed in 2000, the most recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Gasoline and lighter fluid were the next most popular products among huffers in this age group. Huffers also abuse other easily obtained products including nail polish remover, typewriter correction fluid and spray paint.

The chemicals in these products offer a short-term buzz, but they also can cause brain damage, memory lapses and other problems that can lead to academic difficulties, Clark says. Indeed, the federal survey also shows that kids and teens age 12 to 17 who reported an average grade of D in school were three times more likely to have huffed during the previous year than kids with an A average.

The signs of a huffing problem include paint stains on clothing, red or runny eyes, a chemical breath odor, a drunken or dizzy appearance and sores around the mouth.

On the Web: For more information on the warning signs and dangers of huffing, log onto the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition's Web site at www.inhalants.org.