Nearly 5 percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 used inhalants in
2005, according to the results of a government study, while about 4.2 percent
of boys of the same age did during the same time period.
The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA) showed that an estimated 1.1 million adolescents used inhalants in
2005 despite the fact that they can be dangerous and sometimes fatal.
Each year, SAMHSA surveys approximately 67,500 people in their homes to
estimate national drug use rates and prevalence and the prevalence of alcohol
and substance use disorders and other mental health problems.
Researchers from RTI International, a research firm located in Research
Triangle Park, N.C., collect the data, which are then extrapolated to
When researchers analyzed the numbers of new inhalant users, they found
rising numbers of inhalant initiates, especially among girls.
The proportion of girls using inhalants rose from 4.1 percent in 2002 to
4.9 percent in 2005, according to the findings. That means that about 285,000
girls initiated use of inhalants in 2002, while 337,000 did so in 2005.
For adolescent boys, the numbers who initiated inhalant use dropped from
306,000 in 2002 to 268,000 in 2005.
"We are urging parents to talk to their children about inhalants and
take notice when suddenly their children have bad breath, a face rash, and
stained clothing," said the director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance
Abuse Treatment, H. Westley Clark, M.D., at a press conference held in March
in Washington, D.C.
The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition sponsored the press conference
to kick off the 15th National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week.
The data came from an analysis of findings from SAMHSA's National Survey on
Drug Use and Health, which is conducted annually. Researchers gathered data on
inhalant use by teenagers from 2002 through 2005, which were published in
March in the report "Patterns and Trends in Inhalant Use by Adolescent
Males and Females: 2002-2005."
Inhalants include common household products such as shoe polish, glue,
aerosol air fresheners, hair spray, nail polish, and paint solvent.
Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention
Coalition, noted that girls tend to begin using inhalants at an earlier age
"This means that parents, health care professionals, and educators
must start talking with preteen girls about the dangers of inhalants before it
is too late," he said.
The type of inhalants used by young people is also changing, according to
For instance, the use of nitrous oxides or "whippets" among new
users declined from 31.6 percent in 2002 to 21.3 percent in 2005, while use of
aerosol sprays more than doubled from 12.6 percent in 2002 to 25.4 percent in
The data show that glue and shoe polish are the most commonly abused
inhalants. Slightly more than 30 percent of the adolescents who used inhalants
reported "huffing" glue or shoe polish between 2002 and 2005.
Gasoline and lighter fluid were the next most common inhalants used, followed
by nitrous oxide.
The consequences of inhalant use can be deadly, experts pointed out.
"Due to the fact that inhalants are generally legal, cheap, and
available, young people are at more risk for inhalant misuse and the dangers
associated with that misuse," said Bertha Madras, Ph.D., deputy director
of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Among the serious
dangers she cited were brain damage, organ failure, cardiac arrest,
convulsions, deafness, impaired vision, and loss of hearing.
"Even the first time of using inhalants can lead to death," she
said. "Now is the time to raise awareness of this national drug problem
and work to prevent our youth from the cycle of inhalant addiction."▪