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Updated: Jul 31, 2021


Huffing is soaking a rag with a liquid inhalant, holding the rag up to one’s mouth and/or nose, and then inhaling the vapors. Some people inhale the substance directly from its container through their mouth or nose. People may also inhale the substance out of a plastic or paper bag or inhale gas from balloons.


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Updated: Jul 31, 2021


More pre-teens using household inhalants to get high, according to survey

By LARA SALAHI, COURTNEY HUTCHISON, ANNA WILD and RICHARD BESSER, MD via April 7, 2010, 12:58 PM • 5 min read


April 8, 2010— -- In 7th grade, Riley Foster, 16, of Indianapolis, Ind., would hide out in his garage after school and incessantly inhale gasoline for hours.

A one-time athlete, good student, and social teen, Riley became distant and withdrawn. Riley was addicted to huffing gasoline, but his parents did not know it. "He didn't spend as much time with the family, he slept more, he was more argumentative and more irritated," said Riley's mother, Tammie Foster. Riley first experimented with inhalants at age 12 when he sniffed a can of duster at a friend's house. "It's just kind of like taking your head away from your body," he said. "The first time I ended up blacking out."


The more he inhaled, the more he liked it, he said. And the abuse quickly escalated.

"It is such a short high, so you can't pull yourself away from it," said Riley.

Foster said she did not know her son was using inhalants until she found Riley blacked out in the garage from an overdose.


"He was stumbling, his speech was extremely slurred, he was belligerent," Foster said. "I was scared to death that he was going to die."


Numbers Show Pre-Teen Huffing On the Rise

Data released in March by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicate that 12-year-old kids are more likely to get high from common, legal household substances including aerosol computer cleaners, air fresheners, hair spray or shoe polish than use cigarettes or marijuana.


Riley isn't alone in experimenting with inhalant abuse, commonly known as huffing. National drug use surveys by SAMHSA between 2006 and 2008 indicate that nearly 7 percent of 12 year olds have used inhalants to get high.


National surveys indicate that nearly 22.3 million Americans have used inhalants at least once in their lives, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA's Monitoring the Future study suggests that 15.7 percent of eighth-graders have ever used inhalants.


Inhalants: 'Easy, Cheap and Legal'

Sniffing is particularly popular in younger teens because it is so readily available, according to Aaron Whiteman, psychiatrist at the Fairbanks Treatment Center in Indianapolis, Ind. Markers, whip cream cans, glues, spray paint, air fresheners and butane cooking spray are just a few of the more than a thousand products that can be used to get high by sniffing.

"A sixth grader doesn't have the drug connections that maybe an older student might have," said Whiteman. "It's just the curiosity, the naïveté that comes from being that young."

"It's easy to get, cheap and legal," said Jennifer Caudle, an osteopathic family physician and director of the family medicine section of the Department of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.


And death from inhaling, known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, can occur even with a teen's first time sniffing. "It's when inhalants irritate the heart, speed it up and essentially will cause it to stop beating," said Whiteman.


Unfortunately, younger teens are also the most affected by using these toxic substances, said Dessa Bergen-Cico, assistant professor in the department of Health and Wellness at Syracuse University.


"The tissue and mucus membrane in the nose and throat of younger teens are very sensitive because they're growing," so when they inhale the substances not only are they more subject to the effects, but they may be more susceptible to long-term problems such as brain and organ damage, she said.


"Brain and memory are the most affected," Caudle said. "You have young people developing dementia, having hallucinations, walking into things -- not to mention feelings of agitation and anxiety and poor judgment."


Inhalants also produce withdrawal symptoms for users who try to quit, because the chemical high produced by sniffing is both physically and psychologically addictive.

Riley's near fatal overdose was a wakeup call that forced him to get help. It took Riley months of rehab, but he is now sober and knows his brush with death is what saved his life.

"Inhalant users that inhale daily, they don't last [a] year," he said. "[They] die before that."


How to Know If Your Child Is Huffing

"I'm not sure many parents actually know about sniffing," Caudle said. "It's been around for years, but there's not been enough awareness. People don't get how big of an issue this is."

So what are the signs that a teen is using inhalants?


According to Bergen-Cico, the two key markers are physical evidence of use and behavioral changes. Physical evidence would include finding empty aerosol containers, items containing noxious fumes missing from the household, rags, plastic bags, or strange stains or odors on teen's clothing.


Behavioral signs of use, she said, often mimic alcohol intoxication with slurred speech, glassy eyes, poor muscle coordination, nausea, stumbling and/or dizziness. Mood changes are also common, and parents may notice that their children "aren't themselves," Caudle said.

Beyond awareness, it's important to address the root of these problems as well, Bergen-Cico said.


"When we see people younger and younger using things to get high on, the key issue is not just how to stop them but why are they looking to get high?" she said. "What are they trying to escape?"


Parents need to talk to their children about inhalant use when they talk about other drugs. If you suspect your children is using inhalants, seek professional support from your child's doctor.

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Updated: Jul 31, 2021


By Saundra Young, CNN Medical Senior Producer March 11, 2010 2:20 p.m. EST


Washington (CNN) -- When their kids turn 12, parents are concerned about peers pressuring them to smoke cigarettes, drink and use drugs, but it turns out 12-year-olds are doing something else: getting high on inhalants.

A new national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report finds that they're using inhalants more than marijuana, hallucinogens and cocaine combined.


Some young people are sniffing -- inhaling -- a wide variety of products to get high. Inhalants are legal, cheap and everywhere. They can easily be found in most homes: spray paint, shoe polish, glue, air fresheners, hair spray, nail polish, gasoline, aerosols, computer cleaners, even the refrigerant from air conditioners.


"We continue to face the challenge of increasing experimentation and intentional misuse of common household products among the youngest and most vulnerable segments of our population: 12-year-olds," said Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.


"The data are ominous, and their implications are frightening because of the toxic, chemical effects of these legal products on growing minds and bodies."


According to the survey, 6.9 percent of 12-year-olds have "huffed," while 1.4 percent have used pot, 0.7 percent hallucinogens and 0.1 percent cocaine. The report found 5.2 percent smoked cigarettes.


Huffing can be fatal, leading to "sudden sniffing death."

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, director of the family medicine section of the Department of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, said it's critical to educate adolescents about the dangers of huffing.


"Young people do not always realize the consequences of their actions. However, it is possible to die from trying inhalants even once. 'Sudden sniffing death' causes the heart to beat rapidly, which can result in cardiac arrest."


Kevin Talley and his wife, Deborah, know that all too well. Their 17-year-old daughter, Amber Ann Suri, died after using inhalants in February 2009.


Talley said the teenager apparently had been inhaling for six months, but by the time they began to suspect something was wrong, it was too late.


"Parents must wake up to the reality that their child might try huffing and the consequences could be devastating," said Pamela S. Hyde, administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "That's why SAMHSA is leading the way to get information out to health care providers, kids, parents and everyone in the community so that our children hear a consistent message about the dangers of huffing."

It's a message 17-year old Ashley Upchurch said she now takes seriously. She said she started huffing when she was 11.


"Inhalants were cheap, legal and an intense high that would also enhance the feeling I would get from other drugs," she said. "These highs nearly destroyed my life." She's been in recovery for two years.


Many experts said 12 is considered a gateway age for inhalant use, but the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would like to slam that gate shut.


It is kicking off National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week, which starts Sunday. The American Osteopathic Association also is joining the national effort.

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