About 20 percent of U.S. teenagers admit they have gotten high by inhaling common household products, and fewer understand the dangers of this practice compared with teenagers five years ago, according to a report released Monday.
The findings reflect a drop-off in educational efforts begun in the 1990s to combat the growth of inhalant abuse, says the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which is publishing the report.
Sniffing or “huffing” vapors from ordinary products like glue, spray paint, nail polish remover and gasoline was once a “fringe” activity, said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership.
But by the mid-1990s, the practice had “exploded nationwide,” he told Reuters Health, and even elementary school children were experimenting with the inhalants readily available under their kitchen sinks.
In 1995, the Partnership launched a large advertising campaign that was credited with boosting awareness of the dangers of inhalant abuse — which include damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, vision, hearing and even sudden death from suffocation or heart arrhythmias.
More importantly, surveys found an accompanying decline in the percentage of kids who’d ever tried huffing, from 23 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2001.
But the new findings, based on a national survey of more than 7,200 teenagers and 1,200 parents, suggest awareness has waned and abuse is on the rise.
Overall, the survey found, 64 percent of teens “strongly” agreed that huffing can be fatal, down 19 percent from 2001. And 77 percent strongly agreed that inhalants can cause brain damage, down 9 percent.
“It’s a lack of education,” Pasierb said, noting that parents and kids alike need more information.
Only 5 percent of the parents in the survey thought their child had ever abused an inhalant, although 20 percent of teens said they had.
Some parents may simply be unaware of the practice, but many may believe that their child wouldn’t do it, Pasierb noted.
He said the Partnership is restarting its ad campaign warning against inhalant abuse, because today’s middle-schoolers weren’t exposed to the educational efforts of the 1990s.
“This is something we need to keep up,” Pasierb said.
The campaign includes advice on how parents can recognize signs of inhalant abuse, such as chemical odors on children’s hands or clothes, spray cans or soaked rags in their rooms, and physical and behavioral signs such as a dazed appearance, red and runny eyes or nose, irritability and problems at school.
A parents’ guide is published on the Partnership’s Web site.