Inhalants are Cheap, Easy to Find!

Inhalants are Cheap, Easy to Find!
Posted by FoM on February 23, 1999 at 06:37:46 PT

They are cheap, easy to buy, and available at any supermarket or convenience store.For those reasons, they have become among the most dangerous substances used by teens, pre-teens and even younger children looking for a fast buzz, experts say.
They are inhalants, chemicals found in everything from vegetable spray to hair spray. More than a thousand common household products contain them.And they can kill.Students can duck into a bathroom during school breaks, then spray an air freshener onto a rag or into a bag and hold it to their mouths to take in gulps of gas -- a process called huffing. They can take a white fluid used to cover mistakes on paper, spread it on their fingernails and surreptitiously sniff the fumes in class.Or they can, as authorities suspect happened before the Route 1 car crash in Chester Heights that killed five Penncrest High School juniors Jan. 29, inhale the chemical difluoroethane, found in a product called Duster II used on computer keyboards. An empty container of the product was found in the girls' car,"You can die the first time or the 12th time or the 100th time," said Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition in Austin, Texas. "It's like playing Russian roulette. Any time you use it, you're pulling that trigger, and that bullet can come out."Rod Dixon, an addiction counselor at Milestones Community Health Care, an outpatient treatment center in Glenside, said children ages 9 to 15 are prime huffing candidates."It's the most readily available thing there is," Dixon said. "Tobacco is harder to purchase." Inhalants are readily available in homes, he said: "That's where the exposure is."Extended use of inhalants can make treatment difficult, said Mickey Agatone, who supervises drug testing for the Montgomery County Juvenile Probation Department."Since it's easy to start, and a lot of kids start real young with it, treatment is very difficult," Agatone said. "They'll have multiple psychological and social problems if they start when they're 10 and use it until they're 17. It's a mess."It's also a mess that is tough to police; there is only one legal restriction to selling products that contain inhalants. In 1996, Gov. Ridge signed into law a measure prohibiting the sale of cigarette lighters and butane canisters to minors.In Pennsylvania, it is a misdemeanor to buy products with the intention of getting high or to sell them to someone who may use them to get high. Some store owners have taken notice -- and decided to do something.Dave Weitzenhoffer owns a convenience store in Hilltown, Bucks County, and will not sell anything in an aerosol can to teenagers."If you're selling a can a month, [ and ] then all of a sudden you're selling so many cans a day of the stuff, you start to wonder," said Weitzenhoffer, who said he found himself selling a lot of air fresheners. "In our business, that type of product isn't something you go through that often."In Haverford Township, Delaware County, Mark Ritacco, manager of a Wawa store on Eagle Road, had a sign on his dairy case for two months saying cans of whipped cream would not be sold to anyone under 18. He instituted the policy, he said, because youths were buying five and six cans at a time, and he had found empty cans behind his store. He recently took down the sign at the request of Wawa headquarters, he said.Nitrous oxide -- the gas used to propel the topping -- is a common inhalant. Those breathing in the gas get a 60-second high.Weiss cited studies that show that until the eighth grade, inhalants are the third most abused substances behind alcohol and tobacco; after the eighth grade, he said, marijuana moves into third place.No matter how the chemicals are inhaled, or what they are, the results are similar."They are all euphoriants. Most cause some kind of excitement, most cause mild hallucinations," said Ward Donovan, a toxicologist and director of the Central Pennsylvania Poison Center at the Hershey Medical Center.They are also extraordinarily harmful, experts say.The chemicals kill brain cells or hamper the flow of oxygen in the blood. They can disrupt kidney function, waste muscles, and damage the liver.And they can stop the heart -- as Gail Bustaque knows.Her 16-year-old son, Freddy, was late for work one August morning in 1994, so Bustaque's husband went in to wake him up. He found Freddy dead under the sheets, a can of Wizard air freshener in his hand."He obviously had the can under his sheet, held down the nozzle, and got the big buzz," said Gail Bustaque, of Leola, Lancaster County. "Then he lay back down and that was it. He went into cardiac arrest."Heart irregularity is the deadliest of the effects of huffing or sniffing, and occurs particularly if a person has been active before or after breathing in the chemicals.But there are plenty of other problems short of death, said Donovan."They make you lose your judgment," Donovan said. "They're stimulants. Your coordination can be affected. There's confusion. You can have hallucinations or agitation. Teenagers have no concept what can happen when they abuse it."Gail Bustaque said that before her son died, she had heard about inhalant use and went to his school to inquire about it. "They didn't know what I was talking about," she said. "So I went to two drug and alcohol people, and they were pretty unaware of it. Nobody was ever able to tell me what I should look for, what I should watch out for. Nothing."We're obsessed with cigarettes and alcohol. Some die from alcohol abuse. Cigarettes is a bad lifestyle choice. But this is poison. You can die the first time."
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