Inhalant Abuse Down but Still Snaring Young Kids
Children as Young as 6 Inhale Household Products to Get High
April 19, 2010 -- Inhalant abuse of common household products such as
gasoline, paint, or air freshener is on the decline but still a deadly problem
for children and teens, according to a new study.
When inhaled, the products can be more deadly than cocaine, researchers say.
The problem peaks at age 14, but children as young as 6 are inhaling, says
study co-author Toby Litovitz, MD, executive and medical director of the
National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C.
''Inhalants are dangerous," Litovitz says. “Abuse happens in young children,
and it happens with products readily available in your household."
For the study, her team tracked inhalant abuse cases reported to 60 U.S.
poison centers from 1993 to 2008. They found a 33% decline over those years,
but still gathered data on more than 35,000 cases of inhalant abuse --
including 167 deaths -- reported during the study period. Most cases involved
children and teens.
Of note, there is one product category -- propellants -- in which the rate
of abuse has increased from 2004-2008. Computer dusters and fluorocarbons are
included in this group.
The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.
Inhalant Abuse: The Problem
About 10% to 15% of U.S. teens are thought to have an inhalant abuse
problem, Litovitz says. The products are inhaled in a number of ways: a rag
soaked with the chemical is held up to the face ("huffing"), the chemical is
sniffed directly from the container or a plastic bag ("sniffing"), or the
substances are put in a paper bag and the vapors inhaled ("bagging").
The appeal to users? "They get a high, but the high is subtle," Litovitz
says. "There is a slight stimulation effect, and a disassociation effect."
When the researchers looked at the 35,000-plus inhalant abuse cases handled
by the poison control centers, they were surprised at how young some of the
users were. "We saw cases down to 6-year-olds," Litovitz says.
Tracking Inhalant Abuse: A Closer Look
In all, 3,400 different inhalant abuse products were reported, with
propellants, gasoline, and paint the most often involved.
Most deadly, however, were butane, propane, and air fresheners.
Other products on the poison centers' report list:
- Paint thinners
- Lighter fluid
- Carburetor cleaner
- Adhesives and glues
- Inks or markers
- Polishes and waxes
- Aerosol deodorants
The new study differs in a number of ways from ongoing national surveys that
track substance use trends, Litovitz says. It doesn't depend on self-reporting,
and the cases from the poison centers are categorized by severity, from "no
effect resulting from the inhalant exposure" to "death."
Although national surveys have found inhalant abuse equally among girls and
boys, the new study found otherwise. "In our data, almost three-quarters of the
cases involved boys," Litovitz tells WebMD.