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Inhalant Abuse on the Rise Among Young People

WebMD Health News

Sept. 30, 1999 (Atlanta) -- The word "huffing" may evoke a nursery rhyme, but it's also the term used for an increasingly common activity that's anything but child's play. The rate of huffing, or inhaling concentrated fumes -- often from common household items -- has nearly doubled among young people in the last decade, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP sponsored a nationwide survey of 600 children aged 10-17. Nearly 20% of the eighth graders in that group said they have tried to use inhalants to get "high." Almost two-thirds said they know what huffing is, and just over one-quarter have seen or heard about peers who huff, also called 'glue sniffing' or 'bagging.' In fact, the amount of abuse among young people could be on par with drugs and alcohol, Ed Jacobs, MD, chairman of the committee on substance abuse for the AAP, tells WebMD.

The survey underscores the fact that using inhalants is not an exceedingly rare event, and it is actually more common than many parents thought, according to Jacobs.

The study shows children are an average of 12 years old when they first learn about the activity. "I think the thing that needs to be stressed about this survey is that [huffing] is indeed a phenomenon that preadolescents participate in. This is a phenomenon that kids 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 years old are clearly aware of, and I think that's significant," says Jacobs.

The ease of access to inhalants makes the problem difficult to detect, and helps create a perception that the problem is not as acute among young people as alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, according to Jacobs. Over 1,000 common items, from cooking spray to paint to glue to gasoline, can give off the necessary fumes. The medical drug nitrous oxide is also a popular inhalant.

The effect for the user can be a temporary euphoria. But the damage can be deadly, even for first-time users. The toxic chemicals can also cause bad headaches, hallucinations, nausea, or muscle spasms. Short-term memory loss and permanent brain damage also may occur.

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