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Keep an eye out for inhalant use by children


The term "inhalants" refers to more than 1,000 different household and commercial products that can be intentionally abused by sniffing or "huffing" (inhaling through one's mouth) for an intoxicating effect. These products are composed of volatile solvents and substances commonly found in commercial adhesives, lighter fluids, cleaning solutions, gasoline, paint, glue and paint products. Easy accessibility, low cost, and ease of concealment make inhalants, for many, one of the first substances abused.

Common modes of administration include sniffing or huffing directly from the containers of products like rubber cement or correction fluid, sniffing fumes from plastic bags over the head, or sniffing cloth saturated with the substance. The substance may also be inhaled directly from an aerosol can or out of alternative containers such as a balloon filled with nitrous oxide. Some volatile substances may release intoxicating vapors when heated.

Young people are likely to abuse inhalants, in part, because inhalants are readily available and inexpensive. Parents should see that these substances are monitored closely so that children do not abuse them.

Typically, first use of inhalants occurs between late childhood and early adolescence. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, there were an estimated 979,000 new inhalant users in 2000, up from 410,000 in 1985.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 14.7 percent of high school students surveyed nationwide had used an inhalant during their lifetime. Female students (14.9 percent) were equally as likely as male students (14.5 percent) to report use.

Students in grade nine (17.4 percent) were more likely than students in grades 10, 11 and 12 (14.0 percent, 13.8 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively) to report inhalant use in their lifetime.

About 4.7 percent of high school students reported inhalant use within the 30 days preceding the survey.

Havre Public Schools, likewise, participated in the risk survey. The number of Havre High School students who reported use in their lifetime or in the last 30 days decreased between 2001 and 2003. The number of Havre Middle School students who reported use in their lifetime also decreased since 2001. However, the number that reported use in the prior 30 days increased.

Compared with national averages, Montana students continue to a experience a higher incidence of inhalant use.

The Monitoring the Future Study tracks trends in perceived risk and disapproval of use. In 2002, eighth- and 10th-graders were asked questions about the degree of risk they associate with inhalant use. A total of 42.8 percent of eighth-graders and 48.7 percent of 10th-graders reported feeling that using inhalants once or twice a week was a "great risk." In addition, 69.9 percent of eighth-graders and 73.4 percent of 10th-graders reported that using inhalants regularly was a great risk.

In 2002, 86.1 percent of the eighth-graders and 88.6 percent of 10th-graders disapproved of people who try inhalants once or twice. In addition, 90.4 percent of eighth-graders and 91.8 percent of 10th graders disapproved of taking inhalants regularly.

While different in composition, most abused inhalants produce effects similar to anesthetics, which slow the body's functions. Inhalants cause intoxicating effects when administered via the nose or mouth into the lungs in sufficient quantities. If taken repeatedly, intoxication may last a few minutes or several hours. At first, users may feel slightly stimulated; with successive inhalations, they may feel less inhibited and less in control; finally, a user can lose consciousness.

Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can cause heart failure or death, especially when abuse of fluorocarbons or butane-type gases is involved. Additionally, high concentrations of inhalants can lead to the displacement of oxygen in the lungs and central nervous system, resulting in death by suffocation.

Permanent effects caused by the use of inhalants include hearing loss, peripheral neuropathies or limb spasms, central nervous system or brain damage, and bone marrow damage. Additional serious side effects include liver and kidney damage as well as blood oxygen depletion.

Parents should be aware of the following signs of an inhalant abuse problem:

Chemical odors on breath or clothing;

Paint or other stains on face, hands or clothes;

Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing;

Drunken or disoriented appearance;

Slurred speech;

Nausea or loss of appetite;

Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability and depression;

Missing household items.

Monitoring your child will make your child much less likely to use inhalants or other drugs.

Know where your child is at all times, especially after school.

Know your children's friends.

Know their plans and activities.

If you find your child unconscious or you suspect your child is under the influence of an inhalant, call 911 immediately. If you suspect your child might be abusing inhalants, call your poison control center at (800) 222-1222, or the 1-800 number on the label of the product.

Here are some tips for talking to your kids in the 6-to-11 agre range:

Discuss what poisons are and what effects they have on a healthy body. Play a game, "Is it safe to smell or touch?"

Suggest opening windows or using fans when products call for proper ventilation.

Discuss the purpose of common household products, and emphasize that when not used properly, certain fumes or gases may harm the body, act as a poison, and make one sick. Keep poisons out of children's reach.

If your child likes to help clean, read product labels together, talk about the directions and answer any questions your child may have. Always supervise your child's use of household products. And, importantly, teach by example. Show your child that you use household products according to the directions.

For more information on inhalants, or about talking to your children about drugs, call the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-line, 265-6206.


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