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Professional News
Teens Ignore Warnings About Dangers of Inhalant Use
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 8 page 12-12

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 population estimates.

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 than boys.

"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 the report.

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 2005.

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."▪

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