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Inhalants everywhere but often unnoticed
April 03, 2006 - Bangor Daily News

By Megan Rice

Huffing, bagging, sniffing, dusting - have you heard kids use these terms and wondered what they were talking about? These are some of the terms for inhalant use - a cheap, legal and accessible way to get high. Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that are intentionally inhaled or sniffed for mood-altering effects.

The Maine Association of Prevention Programs (MAPP) wants to ensure that parents, teachers, retailers and medical providers recognize inhalant abuse as an often overlooked form of substance abuse which can cause serious health consequences. With the rise of inhalant abuse among our youth, it is the responsibility of adults to let young people know the severe danger of inhaling these poisons.

According to the 2004 Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use Survey, more than one out of every 10 Maine students in grades six through 12 has tried inhalants. Inhalants are referred to as a "gateway drug" because they are often the first drugs that younger children use. Parents should educate themselves on the harm of these substances and talk early and often to their children about the risks of handling these poisons and toxic products, as one time use can cause brain damage or even death.

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, more than 1,000 common household products qualify as inhalants. Most can be found under the kitchen sink or on a shelf in the garage. These products are generally available, low in cost and are legal to possess. Among the list of usual suspects that comprise this potentially deadly "aerosol arsenal" are a variety of products, including, hair spray, gases, paint products, cleaning agents, computer agents, deodorizers and other seemingly benign household mainstays like glues, markers, nail polish remover, Freon, lighter fluid, correction fluid, gasoline and fire extinguishers.

The Maine Inhalant Abuse Prevention Task Force has found that inhalant abuse, like other risky behaviors, goes through cycles when use is more common. National data suggests that this behavior is again on the rise. More children are using inhalants than adults think - and at earlier ages. Use may start as early as the third grade and generally increases through middle school. Nationally, one out of four eighth-graders has intentionally inhaled poisonous products. In Maine, according to the 2004 Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use Survey results, 11.5 percent of seventh-graders reported lifetime use of inhalants, and more than 15 percent of eighth-graders reported lifetime use.

Parents who suspect their children are using should be on the alert for changes in their child's attitudes and interests, decline in school performance, disoriented or dazed appearance, slurred speech and chemical odors on their child's clothes, breath or backpack. In addition, adults should look for red spots or sores around the nose and-or mouth, complaints of headaches, empty lighters, spray cans or household containers, rags or plastic bags with chemical odors.

If you are suspicious about a child's behavior or appearance, be sure to follow up. Don't dismiss your gut feeling telling you that something is not right. Remember, one of the attractions of inhalants is that adults are not suspicious of it and don't recognize the signs of use. The inhalation of vapors, fumes and gases from common, legal products, such as household, school and office products to get "high" is illegal in Maine. It is also illegal to possess inhalants with the intent to inhale their vapors, fumes or gases. (Maine Title 22, Statute 2383-C:4)

To help avert any potentially tragic situations linked to inhalant abuse, MAPP is urging parents to talk to their children now about the dangers of inhalants and other drugs. Please make sure youth are getting the message that inhalants are poisons and are dangerous like all other poisons - that even trying inhalants once can kill.

For more information on inhalant abuse, contact the Maine Office of Substance Abuse by phone, 1-800-499-0027 or by e-mail: osa.ircosa@maine.gov. Or to learn more about the dangers of inhalants, search these Web sites: http://maineosa.org/irc, www.inhalants.druabuse.gov, or www.inhalants.org.

Megan Rice is coordinator of the Maine Association of Prevention Programs.