Imagine a substance so dangerous that it can kill even a first-time user. This substance is addictive and causes a host of health problems from heart failure to seizures to permanent brain damage. It is not only inexpensive but completely legal and freely available in most retail stores. There are no age restrictions on its purchase, and it is in your home and most of your friends’ homes.
That describes inhalants, chemical products which are not generally intended to be used as drugs, but have breathable vapors that produce mind-altering effects.
Generally inhalant abusers tend to be young, starting as early as elementary school. Some of these kids may not even understand that they are getting high and are in danger. They just think it is funny! Other abusers, including both children and adults, often live in stressful, dysfunctional homes and inhale as a way of forgetting about their problems. Unfortunately, it can result in an even larger problem.
The high produced from inhalants is really the body’s reaction to poisoning. Most inhalants produce an initial excitement, followed by an alcohol-like intoxication with slow, uncoordinated movements and slurred speech, sometimes even hallucinations. At high-enough doses, they can even cause amnesia and a loss of consciousness.
Prevention through education has proven to work against this popular form of substance abuse. This is why the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) developed National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week (NIPAW), an annual media-based, community-level program that is taking place this week (March 18-24).
NIPAW is designed to increase understanding about the use and risks of inhalant involvement. It is an inclusive program that involves youth, schools, media, police departments, health organizations, civic groups and more. It has proven to be an effective means of mobilizing communities to reduce inhalant use. Almost 2,000 organizations and individuals from 46 states participated in the last NIPAW campaign.
Types of inhalants include many household products like glue, nail polish remover, gasoline, solvents, butane and propellants in cans of commercial products. This particular class of drugs is increasingly more common among younger adolescents and can lead to other forms of substance abuse as they look for means of longer lasting highs. The use of inhalants at an early age may reflect the fact that many inhalants are cheap, readily available at home or school, and legal to buy and possess.
According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition website, www.inhalants.org, “Most parents are in the dark regarding the popularity and dangers of inhalant use. But children are quickly discovering that common household products are inexpensive to obtain, easy to hide and the easiest way to get high. According to national surveys, inhaling dangerous products is becoming one of the most widespread problems in the country. It is as popular as marijuana with young people. More than a million people used inhalants to get high just last year. By the time a student reaches the eighth grade, one in five will have used inhalants.”
Parents need to be aware that “any kid” can be trapped into trying inhalants and that abuse starts as early as elementary school and is considered a gateway to further substance abuse. Often through no intentional fault of their own, parents remain ignorant of inhalant use or do not educate their children until it is too late.
According to NIPC, “Inhalants are not drugs. They are poisons and toxins, and should be discussed as such.” There are, however, a few age-appropriate guidelines that can be useful when educating your children. Parents are encouraged to visit http://www.inhalants.org/faqs.htm for more information. Educators who would like to address the issue should visit http://www.inhalants.org/teacher.htm.
If you are interested in learning more about NIPAW, visit www.inhalants.org. If you would like to learn more about the GRAAB Coalition and their work for and in the community, visit their website, www.graabcoalition.com or call 423-472-5800.
(Editor’s Note: The GRAAB Coalition currently serves under the funding of a DFC grant. The Drug Free Communities program is directed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The DFC program was created by the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997, and was reauthorized by Congress in 2001 and 2006. Since 1998, ONDCP has awarded approximately 1,600 Drug-Free Communities grants to local communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Palau, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and, for the first time in, FY 2010, the Federated States of Micronesia.)