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Inhalant abuse ... it is right under your nose.

What is inhalant abuse?

Inhalant abuse is an often overlooked form of substance abuse. It is the deliberate inhalation of intoxicating vapors or gases from common household products for the purpose of altering one's mood. Terms used for inhalant abuse are huffing, sniffing, bagging or glading.

What are Inhalants and what are the effects of inhalant abuse?

Inhalants are poisons, pollutants, toxins and fire hazards, and were never meant to be inhaled. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are four categories of inhalants; volatile substances, aerosols, gases and nitrites.

More than a thousand everyday products, including cleaning, office and art supplies, solvents, gases and shop chemicals have the potential to be abused. These products are safe if used as directed. However, vapors can become dangerous, or deadly, when concentrated and breathed. Users could die the 1st time, the 10th time, the 100th time.

A syndrome known as Sudden Sniffing Death can result from a single session of inhalant use. It can directly cause heart failure and death. Other possible causes of inhalant abuse-related death include: suffocation, asphyxiation, injury due to car accidents, burns and trauma due to explosions, and drowning. Inhalants can be addictive both physically and psychologically, and can cause permanent damage to the brain, nervous system, lungs and liver.

Of all the potential injuries, damage to the nervous system is the most significant. Certain chemicals in the products used for inhalant "highs" can dissolve the myelin sheath, the protective cover surrounding nerves and affecting nerve conduction. The brain is one-third fatty tissue and receives sixteen percent of all circulated blood. The chemicals in these products tend to like fatty tissue, and can, therefore, have devastating and permanent effects on the brain. These effects include: peripheral neuropathies, blindness, hearing loss, coordination problems, personality changes and memory loss.

These effects are devastating because the users are so young. The abuse can start as early as 3rd grade and peaks in 8th grade. One in five children has admitted to abusing inhalants by the time they have reached 8th grade (20% or 4.7 million youths nationwide).

A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) in March 2006 shows an increase in the use of inhalants by American youth ages 12-17 years. In Vermont, 13% of 8th graders have reported abusing inhalants, according to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This survey also shows that half of the students who abuse inhalants have tried them prior to the age of thirteen. Nationally, in 2004/2005, inhalant abuse was more common among 8th graders than marijuana.

Why do children try inhalants?

It is an instant gratification with a high being reached in minutes. These products are readily available, legal to buy, portable, easy to conceal and are perceived to be safe. The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), an annual study that tracks attitudes consumers have about illicit drug use, shows 64% of teens believe that inhalants can kill. This is a 19% decrease from 2001. A falling perception of the risks is worrisome. Research shows that a lower perception of risk usually correlates with an increase in drug use.

A key prevention strategy is educating health care professionals.

As common as this behavior is, many parents are not talking with their children about the risks of inhalant abuse as often as they discuss cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. Only 5% of parents believe their child has ever abused inhalants. As nurses, you need to become educated so that you can educate parents and youth.

A new Vermont training website for adults on inhalant abuse is a valuable resource.

* Visit In addition, you can receive nursing CEU's by going to

* Vermont now has inhalant training kits available at ten sites around the state. These sites are at all the Vermont health department offices. An inhalant kit is also housed at the health education resource center in South Burlington (in Barre/Montpelier as of July). Visit the Vermont training website listed above for contact information and locations. These kits contain power points, videos, brochures and other educational material to inform other professionals, parents and students on the dangers of inhalant abuse and prevention strategies.

Be alert, know the signs and symptoms and the paraphernalia associated with this behavior.

* Headaches, runny nose, slurred speech and changes in behavior and school performance are just a few of the possible effects being observed. (See www. for further information).

* Put inhalant abuse on your radar. Remember, inhalant abuse, it is right under your nose. Huffing is something that only the three little pigs should have to worry about.

For more information on inhalant abuse ...

* Contact the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or visit them on the web at

* If you would like to schedule a program or training on inhalant abuse, please contact Gayle Finkelstein, Vermont Poison Prevention Educator at 802-847-2393 or email at

Gayle Finkelstein, MSRN Vermont Poison Prevention Educator Northern New England Poison Center 802-847-2393
COPYRIGHT 2007 Vermont State Nurses Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Finkelstein, Gayle
Publication:Vermont Nurse Connection
Geographic Code:1U1VT
Date:May 1, 2007
Previous Article:VNC nurse profile.
Next Article:Why should school nurses take the Praxis I exam?

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