(Newswise)–More 12 year olds have used potentially lethal inhalants than have used marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens combined, according to data released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in conjunction with the 18th annual National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week.
The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) and SAMHSA kicked off National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week at a press conference featuring information and personal stories about the dangers of inhalant use or “huffing.” One of the leading participants in this year’s event was the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), which represents more than 67,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs). The organization urged its members to take continuing education programs designed to help enhance physician awareness of this risk to youth.
The need to increase awareness of this public health risk among physicians, parents and others cannot come too soon for Kevin Talley, the father of Amber Ann Suri, who died in February 2009 after huffing. Her parents suspected something was going on when they noticed she had a pungent smell, glassy eyes, and complained about sinus problems. Although she was taken to a doctor, her real problem was not identified and she was treated only for her sinus symptoms. She died shortly thereafter.
Ashley Upchurch, a 17 year-old recovering from addiction to inhalants and other drugs, spoke at the press conference about the consequences of huffing, the importance of identifying and treating inhalant abuse and the hope of recovery. “Inhalants were a 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.” In recovery for two years, Ashley now participates in a recovery program and is “giving back by sharing my story of hope with others.”
Young people sniff products such as refrigerant from air conditioning units, aerosol computer cleaners, shoe polish, glue, air fresheners, hair sprays, nail polish, paint solvents, degreasers, gasoline or lighter fluids. Youngsters intentionally inhale these substances to get high. Most parents are not aware that use of inhalants can cause “Sudden Sniffing Death” – immediate death due to cardiac arrest – or lead to addiction and other health risks.
SAMHSA data from the 2006-2008 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health show a rate of lifetime inhalant use among 12 year olds of 6.9 percent, compared to a rate of 5.1 percent for nonmedical use of prescription type drugs; a rate of 1.4 percent for marijuana; a rate of 0.7 percent for use of hallucinogens; and a 0.1 rate for cocaine use.
“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. The data are ominous and their implications are frightening because of the toxic, chemical effects of these legal products on growing minds and bodies. One of the front-line defenses against inhalant use is the family health care provider. This is why the action of the American Osteopathic Association is so important and why we are so proud that they are joining us and our partners in this public health campaign,” Harvey Weiss, NIPC executive director, said.
The AOA adopted a policy endorsing continuing medical education to enhance physician awareness of inhalation of volatile substances and to support campaigns to increase public awareness of the crisis. This policy was submitted by the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians (ACOP), and resulted in the adoption of “Risky Behavior in the Pediatric Patients” as their 2009-2010 theme. The ACOP/AOA policy recognized that inhalation of volatile substances, known as huffing, is increasing in children 12 to 14 years of age.
“Parents must wake up to the reality that their child might try huffing and the consequences could be devastating,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “That’s why SAMHSA is leading the way to get information out to healthcare providers, kids, parents and everyone in the community so that our children hear a consistent message about the dangers of huffing.”
“Young people and their parents are key audiences for this important public information campaign about the clear and present dangers associated with inhalant abuse,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “With data showing that young people often don’t perceive the great risk of abusing inhalants, we must redouble our efforts to inform adolescents of the dangers and to encourage parents to be more vigilant in protecting their children from inhalants often present in common household products.”
Dr. Timothy Condon, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), noted: “As risky as inhalants are, many kids don’t see the drugs that way. In our latest Monitoring the Future study, there’s a disturbing downward trend among high schoolers who see “great risk” in using inhalants once or twice a week. At the same time, the survey shows that inhalant use isn’t declining as much as it has in recent years among eighth and tenth graders. If today’s attitude translates into future use, we have reason to be concerned.”
“As a physician, I cannot stress enough the importance of educating adolescents about the dangers of the inhalation of volatile substances, known as huffing. Young people do not always realize the consequences of their actions,” said Jennifer N. Caudle, D.O., an osteopathic family physician and director of the family medicine section of the Department of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. “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.”