First Stop toward Drug Addiction

April 06, 1994

Howard County police and school health officials have wisely taken the offensive against an apparent increase in inhalant abuse among local students. Sometimes called "huffing" or "bagging," the practice involves inhaling the vapor from household products, such as glue and hair spray. Kids downplay it as a fairly harmless high ("It's not like it's going to kill you," one Howard student said in a recent Sun article on inhalants), but they're fooling themselves. Experts agree that abusing inhalants, cheap and accessible buzz, can lead to serious physical

damage and to habitual use of alcohol, marijuana and other substances as youngsters get jobs and the cash to pay for

harder stuff.

The trend is not exclusive to Howard. A University of Michigan study released last winter reveals a nationwide rise in huffing. While there is good news in that abuse of hard drugs showed no increase, the bad news is that experimentation with so-called "beginner" drugs, mainly inhalants and marijuana, rose markedly from previous years.

Interestingly, the lowest abuse rates in the study were among black students. Conventional wisdom (or prejudice) holds that black youths' exposure to the urban drug wars makes them the likeliest candidates for abuse. On the contrary, says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, their encounters with the narcotics trade tend to scare many black children away from drugs.

In the relative paradise of a suburb such as Howard, though, many youngsters have the wherewithal to sample the latest illicit substance. And even when the wherewithal runs low, there's always the glue from Dad's workbench.

Ms. Shalala and other federal officials were so alarmed by the Michigan findings that they have pledged a re-energized national education campaign about the risks of substance abuse. The Howard school system has been aggressive with such programs; now those efforts are being supplemented with pamphlets and videos about inhalant abuse, which will be available to students and parents, along with a local PTA survey of students' substance usage. Parents, too, must do their part by pondering their own habits and determining whether their reliance on this pill or that drink has created the hazardous

assumption in their children's minds that "it's not like it's going to kill you."

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