HIGH AT HOME:
Mothballs join the list of teen
Buffalo News: October 31, 2006
report released late last month by the New England Journal
of Medicine describes the case of French twins who were
hospitalized with scaly skin on their legs, hands and
elbows; urinary retention; unsteady balance; and mental
The sisters also exhibited
signs of intracranial hypertension. Subsequent blood tests
revealed severe anemia and low white blood cell counts.
Not until a hidden stash of
mothballs was discovered in their room could doctors explain
The pair had been "bagging" -
inhaling fumes from the mothball bag - to get high each day,
even while hospitalized. One had been bagging two months;
the other, only a few weeks.
The sicker of the two had
also been chewing half a mothball a day. It took six months
for her to recover completely.
Courtney Baker, in-home
treatment program coordinator for the Child Guidance Center
of Southern Connecticut in Stamford, says news that
mothballs are used as an intoxicant is new, but it joins a
long list of common household items used by teens to get
"I think this is a specific
new trend, but using an inhalant is not new at all," says
Baker, who works with adolescents dealing with substance
abuse and concurrent behavioral problems.
"Kids use spray paint and
nail polish remover the same way. Kids have sniffed gasoline
before. We see kids that use whipped cream (canisters),
glues, hairsprays. These are all household items that can
cause mind-altering effects." Other commonly "sniffed"
solvents, gases and aerosols include paint thinners,
degreasers, felt-tip markers, lighter fluids, propane tanks,
deodorant sprays, fabric protector sprays, cooking oil
sprays and cans of compressed air used to clean keyboards.
Fumes from these substances,
depending on type, can be snorted from the containers or
inhaled from a bag that either contains the substance or has
it sprayed into it. Inhalants are also "huffed" when soaked
into a rag or towel and stuffed into the mouth, or sprayed
directly into the mouth.
"I know it's hard for parents
to recognize," says Elisabeth Tullis, a family therapist for
Family Centers in Greenwich, Conn. "It really is about easy
access. It's about low cost. It (exists) because it gives
such an immediate high and wears out pretty quickly.
"It is easy to do without
getting caught." The rationalization that these substances
are not illegal also results in the continued use and abuse
"There is a notion that
something that can be found in any home cannot be that bad,"
adds Tullis, who works with teens coping with substance
abuse. "The same goes with any household product.
"(Kids) figure, "We are
exposed anyway. How bad can it be?'" According to the
National Institute on Drug Abuse, chronic use of inhalants
is addictive and considered pathways to prescription and
illegal drugs. It can impair neurological function; cause
long-term damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys; and
affect a person's cognitive functions, physical movement and
balance. Vision and hearing can also be harmed. Nerve damage
can result in symptoms that mimic multiple sclerosis.
Most alarming is the
possibility of sudden death, whether by heart failure after
repeated use in concentrated amounts, or suffocation, in
some cases after a single attempt.
Still, kids do it, says the
2005 Monitoring the Future survey by the NIDA, which reports
that 17.1 percent of eighth-graders claim to have used
inhalants to get high at least once.
What makes this statistic
compelling, says Tullis, is that it suggests users are
younger than earlier believed. Alarmingly, the number
contrasts with other figures that report overall decline in
drug use and abuse among adolescents.
The reason for the
difference, she says, could be lack of education about the
prevalence of inhalant use and its associated dangers.
"I think it's a form of
risk-taking," Baker says. "Kids, for a variety of reasons,
are not taking good care of themselves. Sometimes it is a
way to manage stress levels. It could be peer pressure. They
could be coping with depression or low-self-esteem or a
difficult family conflict. They engage in these risks to
manage those stresses." Adolescents tend to be more
impulsive, she adds, and more likely to seek out instant
gratification, regardless of the medical consequences.
"They don't seem to
understand that it is extremely dangerous and potentially
How can parents tell?
Watch out for chemical smells
on breath or clothing, paint stains on hands or faces,
hidden containers, rags soaked with chemicals.
Learn inhalant street names,
which according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America,
can include air blasts, boppers, bullets, buzz bombs,
discorama, hardware, highball, hippie crack, moon gas, oz,
pearls, poor man's pot, poppers, quicksilver, rush,
snappers, spray, Texas shoe shine, thrust, toilet water,
whippets and whiteout.
Talk to your kids, Baker
says. "Be aware that this is an issue. Kids have the
potential of abusing these products. The earlier you talk to
your kids, about the potential and how harmful the behavior
is, the better. Otherwise they will learn about it from a
friend. Or the Internet."
Tullis suggests taking note
of missing or misplaced household items. Remember typical
drug-abuse warning signs, such as glazed eyes, loss of
appetite, weight loss, inattentiveness, irritability, mood
changes, significant muscle weakness, lack of coordination,
"There are 1,000 household
items that can be used," she says. "It's not about educating
yourself about every single kind (of inhalant) but knowing
your child and paying attention if your child is changing.
That's the biggest signal."
Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service