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Huffing Kills

Washington Post,  June 24, 2006

At the end of "Fewer Students Drinking, Smoking; Inhalant Use Is a Problem," [Metro, June 14] was an important warning for parents. Four years ago we lost our brilliant and well-loved 16-year-old disabled son, Justin, after he experimented with inhaling air freshener -- a practice called "huffing."

Before his death, we were unaware of the gravity of the problem of inhalant use or its risks. Since then we have been stunned by school administrators' resistance to getting information to parents and teachers about this deadly problem

The response of school administrators is that inhalant abuse is not a problem. This response fits with the perception among teens that huffing is a low-risk activity. In reality, every time they use inhalants, teens are playing Russian roulette. It might not kill them the first time, but it could.

More local research like the Fairfax County Youth Survey should be done. It is likely to show that while other forms of substance abuse may be declining, inhalant abuse is rising. A national survey by the Partnership for a Drug Free America shows that 20 percent of teens have tried inhaling something to get high. It is third -- behind marijuana and alcohol use -- in the survey.

More information about this abuse might have helped forestall our family's tragedy. Information permits a discussion, which can lead to avoidance or prevention. Parents and teens who want to know more can visit http://www.inhalant.org.