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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.

The dangers of inhalant abuse are taught in about three-quarters of the classrooms nationwide, according to the report. Of the 600 children questioned, just over half say they've discussed huffing with their families.

But the younger children, aged 10-11, are the least likely to be educated about inhalant abuse at school. And over half of the younger children surveyed had not discussed the problem with their families.

Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, tells WebMD that the facts in the survey "validate ... that there's a problem [everywhere]."

"What they talk about in the survey," says Weiss, is the fact that "the people who should be talking about it just aren't talking about it to their children, especially at the most critical age."

The study shows that about one-quarter of the kids who huff do it after school. But a smaller percentage also abuse inhalants while parents are more likely to be around -- at night or on weekends. Thirteen percent huff in class, sometimes by inadvertently sniffing correction fluid.

For parents or teachers, the AAP says the warning signs or symptoms of inhalant abuse may be breath and clothing that smells like chemicals, paint or stains on the body or clothing, spots or sores around the mouth, a dazed or glassy-eyed look, or a sudden change in appetite or mood.

The survey shows the problem was most prevalent in the South, where almost one-third of the respondents know friends who huff and 9% have personally experienced inhalants.

 

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