Putting a Halt to Huffing: Inhalant Abuse Prevention

WebMD Live Events Transcript

One in five students in America has inhaled or "huffed" common household products to get high by the time he or she reaches the eighth grade. On March 24 Harvey Weiss of National Inhalant Prevention Coalition joined us to help us understand the deadly risks of huffing as we observe National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Harvey. Thank you for joining us today. Can you describe for us the typical inhalant user?

The typical inhalant user is any child. Every child is vulnerable to experimentation with inhalants. There's no stereotypical youngster out there. There is a perception that inhalant users are from a lower socioeconomic class or from a particular ethnic background, but that is not true.

I think many parents might be shocked at how young children are when they start "huffing."

That is another perception of the type of person that is huffing. Just yesterday I talked to someone whose 5-year-old child was a huffer. Inhalant use usually peaks about the sixth or seventh grade so children are starting before that age, so 11 or 12 years old is the average age of first use.

This is a lot younger than most of us think of when we picture a substance abuser.

That's true. Inhalants are usually the first substance a child will experiment with, oftentimes before alcohol and tobacco and certainly before marijuana.

The typical inhalant user is any child. Every child is vulnerable to experimentation with inhalants.

We as parents are always getting messages to talk with our children about alcohol and tobacco, but no one told us to keep the kids away from the whipped cream. What should we be looking for? What is being abused?

Any number of products can be abused or misused:

  • Any type of aerosol or spray can product, such as whipped cream, which has nitrous oxide as a propellant.
  • Air freshener.
  • Cooking sprays, like PAM.
  • Typewriter correction fluid, such as Wite-out.
  • Computer cleaner, sometimes called "canned air."
  • Body deodorant. One becoming very popular with young boys is a product called Axe.
  • Refrigerant in air conditioners.
  • Butane
  • Propane

That lists just a few of the products that are around everybody's house that can be misused.

How can parents tell if their child is huffing?

There are a number of signs to look out for if you think your child is huffing:

  • There is a common link between inhalant abuse and problems in school, such as failing grades, chronic absences and general apathy.
  • Look for paints or stains on the body or clothing, especially face and hands, the presence of chemical soaked rags, plastic or paper bags, socks or clothing and latex balloons.
  • There could be a drunk, dazed, dizzy or drowsy appearance lacking explanation. There can be a sudden loss of weight and appetite. There can be anxiety, excitability or irritability.
  • There could be red or runny eyes or nose; spots, sores or rash around the mouth or nose; a chemical breath odor; nausea, loss of appetite or drooling.
  • Most important of all -- there can be unexplainable abused products hidden nearby or in possession of the suspected abuser, such as aerosol sprays or paint, lighters or refills, glues, solvents, propane, etc.

And since these products are normal household items, not illegal drugs, most parents wouldn't be on the lookout, would they?

Certainly not. Parents need to be vigilant about the potential of their child misusing these products. Parents and teachers need to be aware of whether these products are suddenly disappearing or being used up too quickly.

A child can die from even first-time use or experimentation of inhalant or the fifth or tenth time. It's like playing Russian roulette with their lives.

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