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Tweens Favor Inhalants to Get High

Youngsters Use Inhalants as “Gateway” to Other Illicit Drugs, Study Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 13, 2008 -- A newly released federal government report points to an alarming trend -- that preteens and young teens who use drugs chose inhalants as a "gateway" drug to other illicit drugs.

The findings released at the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition's latest news conference reveal that among young drug users, 12- and 13-year-olds sniff common household chemicals to get high, often before moving on to marijuana or abusing pain pills. 

"Inhalants are everywhere in the house and garage, and parents often do not realize that the glue and paint are not being used for crafts or science projects," H. Westley Clark, MD says in a news release. Clark is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Statistics director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

According to Clark's prepared statements, "while the data show that often children move away from using inhalants as they grow older, they often move on to other illicit drugs. Inhalants are a health hazard that can damage the brain, heart, liver, or kidneys." Clark warns parents that inhalants can "cause severe damage and even death."

The report looked at national survey results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health of adolescents aged 12 to 17 done from 2002 to 2006. The combined data showed that an annual average of 593,000 adolescents had used inhalants for the first time in the year before the survey. Twenty-one percent surveyed say they used an illicit drug in the past year.

Among the youngest surveyed, aged 12 or 13, inhalants were the most reported class of illicit drug used in the past year. Marijuana was the most-used class of illicit drug among the older teens, with use of pain relievers in second. Rate of inhalant use in the past year went up from age 12 to 14 (3.4% to 5.3%), but then decreased by age 17 (3.9%).

Shoe polish, glue, and toluene were the most-used inhalants in adolescents aged 12 to 15.

There is concern that young people are not taking the risks of inhalants seriously, according to study authors. "While teens are increasingly aware of the dangers of illicit street drugs, they continue to underestimate the risks of abusing products that can be found in the home, like inhalants and prescription and over-the-counter medications," Stephen J. Pasierb, president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said during a news conference.

Pasieb offered these tips for parents:

  • Be aware of which products can be abused.
  • Keep track of potentially dangerous products in the home.
  • Talk to your children about the risks of inhalant abuse.

Related Study Looks at Kids in Treatment for Drug Abuse

Here are the findings for a related federal government study looking at youngsters who get treated for substance abuse.

  • 45% of those who abused inhalants also have psychiatric disorders, compared with 29% who abused other drugs.
  • 12- to 17-year-olds made up 8% of substance abuse treatment admissions in 2006, but they made up nearly half of all admissions who say they used inhalants. 
  • 41% of teenage girls admitted to drug treatment centers involved inhalants; 30% of those admitted did not report inhalants.

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