In the past three years, the number of new inhalant users in the United
States has risen by more than a million, and the average age of those who try
the substances for the first time is barely over 15, according to information
recently released by the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC).
An average of 598,000 youth aged 12 to 17 initiated inhalant use in the
past year, according to data from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and
Health, an annual survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Inhalants include aerosols containing butane and propane such as spray
paint and hair spray, solvents such as paint removers and thinners, and
chemical compounds found in cleaning agents, room deodorizers, and adhesives.
More than 1,000 products can be used as
Police officer Jeff Williams lost his 14-year-old son, Kyle to inhalant
use. "If you don't know the signs, you cannot save your children,"
he said. A poster of Kyle is behind Williams.
The survey collects information on the prevalence of substance use in the
population, perceptions of risk and availability related to substance use,
patterns of use, substance abuse treatment, and mental illness.
About 30 percent of those new initiates were 12 or 13 years old, 39 percent
were 14 or 15, and almost 31 percent were 16 or 17.
"Inhalants are highly accessible. They are in your bathrooms,
kitchens, and garages, and are very hard to regulate—this is probably
the reason they are most frequently abused by young teens," explained
Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Volkow appeared on a panel of government officials, advocates, family
members, and people recovering from inhalant abuse at a press conference held
in Washington, D.C., in March. Together they addressed the scope and dangers
of inhalant use and proposed ways to reduce inhalant use by American
"The neurological complications that occur with inhalant abuse are
far from trivial," she said, and can range from loss of sensation in
various parts of the body to blindness.
The ultimate consequence of inhalant use is death. "There is a
potential for cardiac arrhythmia and sudden death, which can happen the first
time a person uses an inhalant," Volkow said. Inhalant users can also
die of asphyxiation, she added.
Because inhalant addiction is especially difficult to treat, Volkow
emphasized the need for prevention of inhalant use. "We need to educate
communities, medical professionals, and young people" about the dangers
of inhalant use, she said.
NIPC Director Harvey Weissman, M.B.A., noted that "inhalant use is a
significant problem affecting millions of youngsters and knows no ethnic,
geographical, or socioeconomic boundaries."
He pointed to data from the 2005 Monitoring the Future Survey showing that
inhalant use rose among eighth grade students between 2002 and 2004
(Psychiatric News, February 4, 2005).
Researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research
conduct the Monitoring the Future Survey each year among nationally
representative samples of approximately 50,000 students in the eighth, 10th,
and 12th grades in about 400 public and private schools across the
The survey showed that in 2002, 15.2 percent of eighth graders reported
having ever used an inhalant, and in 2004, 17 percent had. "We know that
up until the eighth grade, inhalants are the leading substance of abuse after
tobacco and alcohol."
In addition, according to the survey's findings, the proportion of eighth
graders who perceive regular inhalant use as harmful has dropped from 71.6
percent in 2001 to 64 percent last year.
Weissman said that on average, he hears of about 100 to 125 deaths due to
inhalant use each year, but estimated that the actual number is higher because
such deaths often go unreported due to stigma and a lack of awareness on the
part of coroners and medical examiners about the physical effects of inhalant
The death of Kyle Williams, the 14-year-old son of police officer Jeff
Williams, was not only reported, but stands out as one of the few that has
gained national recognition as part of an effort to prevent similar deaths
among young people.
When several cans of computer cleaner went missing at home, the elder
Williams suspected nothing. He had purchased them for dusting his computer
keyboard, and his sons said they had used them to clean their computers.
He recalled that shortly after he bought another can of duster, Kyle
experienced some of the signs of inhalant abuse that went unrecognized by
Williams: a "sore" tongue, vomiting, and an episode of unprovoked
Williams learned about his son's death while on duty when the police
dispatcher contacted him. When Williams arrived at his house, he saw four
police cars outside, but no ambulances. "Being a police officer, I knew
what that meant," he said.
William's wife discovered their son dead in his room with the straw of the
computer cleaner emerging from his mouth. As it turned out, a neighbor had
showed him how to use inhalants only weeks earlier.
Williams implored parents to learn the signs of inhalant use.
"If you don't know the signs, you cannot save your children,"
More information about inhalant abuse is posted at<www.inhalants.org>.▪