Inhalants are making a comeback

April 04, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

The rubber glue in the shop class at Atholton High School is intended to paste together wooden cars and other class projects. But for 15-year-old Steve, the material was a first lesson in getting high.

Howard County police and school health officials say the use of inhalants, common household substances, is making a comeback with youths who want to experiment with drugs.

That's why school officials have mailed pamphlets on inhalants to the parents of elementary, middle and high school students who may not suspect they have substances around their homes that their children could use to get high.

"We're taking a real hard angle to educate parents," said Mamie Perkins, supervisor of health education programs for Howard County schools.

The move includes an effort by school health officials and Howard's PTA to study the habits of students. Ms. Perkins said the county has purchased informational videos on inhalants to be used in schools.

More than 600 ordinary products -- including glues, gasoline, fingernail polish, whipped cream, deodorants and hair sprays -- are used as inhalants.

The act is called "huffing" or "bagging," describing how vapors are sniffed directly from containers, from cloths or from paper bags.

"It gave me a buzz, and made my eyes water," said Steve, a ninth-grader. "But it's not for me. I won't try it again."

The white liquid used for correcting typing mistakes was the experimental inhalant used by Steve's schoolmate, Jamie. A friend had dared him to try it.

"You just act stupid when you do it," Jamie said. "You see the commercials that say don't do it. But it's just one time, it's not like it's going to kill you."

Officers in the countywide Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program say that attitude has been the declaration of many young habitual drug users who started off inhaling.

Inhaling the substances can cause nosebleeds, nausea, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, blackouts, depression, hallucinations, aggression, paranoia or more serious effects such brain damage, hepatitis, liver damage and heart failure, health officials say.

The youths can easily hide their addiction from parents who are not aware of the practice.

A distinctive purple pamphlet, titled "A Parent's Guild To Inhalant Abuse," warns parents to look out for mood swings, anxiety, school problems, dilated pupils, a chemical smell on a child's breath and shaky hands.

Many youths tell D.A.R.E. officers about using alcohol and cigarettes, but not drugs. And many of the youths don't open up to their parents either, officers say.

Health officials say that use of drugs has declined since the early 1980s, but inhalant abuse has increased. In the 1960s and early 1970s, use of aerosols was widespread.

It's estimated that nationwide about 7 million children between 5 and 17 have abused inhalants, 21 percent of them eighth-graders.

Most start by grade six and stop by the time they are 13.

According to the latest Maryland Adolescent Survey, inhalant users are predominantly male and usage among Howard students peaked at the eighth-grade level.

"They feel they're young and nothing's going to stop them," says Sgt. Louis P. Haslup, who heads the county Police Department's Youth Services Division. "They're vulnerable. They don't believe the consequences."

Most inhalants are cheap and easy to acquire.

But that usage usually leads to other drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, when the youths get older and can purchase them, police say.

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