Home Page of the DPNA Website Learn about the Drug Prevention Network of the Americas, its history, principles, members, supporters, and board Looking for information about drug prevention?  Check out our web page links, books, presentations, position papers, and brochures Want to connect with national, regional or international drug prevention sites?  Visit our extensive Links section. Keep up with the latest drug prevention news and events. Ready to become a part of the Drug Prevention Network of the Americas?  Sign up on line.

DPNA News and Updates
Drug Research
Drug Effects
Drug Information
Drug Trends
Best Practices
Drug Legalization
Drug Policy
Books and Guides
Funding Sources

HIGH AT HOME: Mothballs join the list of teen inhalants


Buffalo News: October 31, 2006

A 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 lethargy.

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 their symptoms.

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 high.

"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 of inhalants.

"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 lethal."

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, slurred speech.

"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