March is National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Month

Dear Editor: If you think “huffing” is just something the Three Little Pigs had to watch out for, the wolf may come knocking at your door. Huffing, bagging and sniffing are terms for inhalant use, a cheap, legal and accessible way that young people in our community are getting high. When we think of drugs, most of us think of marijuana, heroine and crack cocaine. But some of the most lethal drugs are simpler and easier to obtain. We can find them in the drawers of our desks, stashed in our cabinets and lined up on our grocery story shelves. Inhalants are an equal opportunity form of substance abuse: they are used by young people of all economic levels and all ethnic backgrounds. At least one in every five eighth graders (21.0 percent) has intentionally inhaled household chemicals to get high at the risk of brain damage and even death, reports the 1997 National Institute on Drug Abuse “Monitoring the Future Survey.” Almost half a million young people use inhalants in any month. Inhalant use, most common in the 10-12 age bracket, is also considered a “gateway drug”, a student’s first form of substance abuse before “graduating” to other drugs. Before eighth grade, inhalants are more popular than marijuana among students. After eighth grade, inhalants become the fourth most abused substance after alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Inhalants are as close as your kitchen sink or your child’s classroom. There are over 1,000 abusable products, including butane, propane, gasoline, Freon, degreasers, typewriter correction fluid, nitrous oxide, whipped cream, shoe polish, spray paint, toluene, paint thinner, chloroform, computer cleaning fluid, air freshener and cooking spray. Young people in the 12-17 age group most commonly use gasoline and lighter fluid, followed by glue and toluene. Young adults between 18-25 most commonly use nitrous oxide or “whippets.” Using inhalants is like playing Russian Roulette; users can die the first, 10th or even 100th time they use. Sudden Sniffing Death can result from heart or lung failure, asphyxiation, paralysis of breathing mechanisms or accidents from being intoxicated. Long term effects of inhalant use include brain, respiratory, liver, kidney and bone marrow damage; short term memory loss and hearing impairment. That’s why we must warn our kids about the dangers of inhalants and make sure that they know enough not to try them. If you suspect someone you know may be using inhalants, consult a school counselor or call NCADD Hudson at 201-653-6776 for help. Marion Fritsch, Executive Director National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Hudson County, Inc.


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