New state program fights abuse of inhalants

October 03, 2007|By Capital News Service

The dangers and allure of marijuana, alcohol and other illegal drugs are well covered in TV commercials and school programs, but it has been a different story when it comes to inhalant abuse.

Yesterday, the state Departments of Education and Health kicked off the Maryland Inhalant Abuse Prevention Program, intended to educate parents and teachers about the warning signs and dangers of what is popularly known as "huffing."

The Partnership for a Drug Free America reported in 2005 that 22 percent of eighth-graders nationwide had used common household items such as cooking spray or air freshener at least once for a quick high. But most parents and teachers don't know about the dangers of inhalants, which "can be deadly the very first time," said Christopher Cathcart, secretary of the board of directors for the Alliance for Consumer Education, a health advocacy foundation.

The Maryland program will supply inhalant abuse prevention kits - which include tips about what products can be abused and how to intervene if inhalant abuse is suspected - to school systems around the state.

Similar programs have been established at the local level around the country, but Maryland is the first to mount a statewide effort, said Colleen Creighton, executive director of the Alliance for Consumer Education.

Creighton, whose organization helped develop the Maryland program, said she expects the kits to be available at back-to-school nights and at community sessions on inhalant abuse. Each school district is expected to use the kits in its own way, she said.

The program was developed after the General Assembly earlier this year passed "Mackenzie's Law," which required the state to create an inhalant education program. The bill is named for the daughter of Pamela Powers, an aide to Del. Tawanna P. Gaines, the bill's main sponsor.

Gaines, a Prince George's Democrat, said she was unaware of the dangers of inhalants until Mackenzie's death of inhalant abuse at 15. "And if I didn't know about it, I knew other parents didn't either," Gaines said at the news conference announcing the program's launch.

It is uncertain how prevalent inhalant abuse is in Maryland.

The 2004 Maryland Adolescent Survey, conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education, found a much lower rate of inhalant use than national figures - only 6.4 percent of Maryland eighth-graders reported using inhalants.

Creighton said inhalant abuse often is underreported because younger adolescents don't always understand what they're being asked.

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