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For Adolescents, Inhalants Are Drug of Choice

But sniffing common household chemicals can be deadly, experts say

THURSDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Inhalants are being used more often than marijuana or prescription painkillers by kids on the brink of being teenagers, a new government report shows.

Inhaling common household products such as shoe polish, glue, aerosol air fresheners, hair sprays, nail polish, paint solvents, degreasers, gasoline and lighter fluid now appears to be the preferred way to get high in this age group, health officials note.

In the past year, 3.4 percent of 12-year-olds report using an inhalant, while only 1.1 percent tried marijuana, and 2.7 percent took prescription painkillers. That trend continued with 13-year-olds, with 4.8 percent using inhalants, 4 percent trying marijuana, and 3.9 percent taking prescription painkillers. By age 14, inhalant use dropped behind the use of marijuana, painkillers and other drugs.

The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, with sponsorship from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, presented the results of these studies at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

"Our data show that 1.1 million 12-to-17-year-olds acknowledge using inhalants last year," Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse, said Thursday. "Our data also indicate that there are almost 600,000 teenagers [who] start using inhalants annually."

However, inhalants can cause neurological damage, along with sudden death from cardiac reactions or lack of oxygen, Clark said. Although many adolescents die from using inhalants each year, an exact number isn't known.

"The short-term effects are dizziness, nausea, confusion and lack of coordination," he said.

In addition, there been a number of reports of teens who have inhaled computer keyboard cleaners and lost control of their cars and crashed into walls and other obstacles, Clark said.

"Once kids start using inhalants, they are more susceptible to using other drugs like marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine as they age," Clark said. "Inhalants can produce psychological effects, but because they're readily accessible they are substitutes for other drugs."

Among teens aged 12 to 17, 20.9 percent used illegal drugs in the past year.

Among adolescents aged 12 to 13 who used illegal drugs, 45.5 percent used inhalants, while 36.5 percent used painkillers, 28.4 percent used marijuana, and 9.8 percent used other drugs, the report found.

However, among 14- and 15-year-olds who used drugs, 25.1 percent used inhalants, 34.2 percent used painkillers, 66.2 percent used marijuana, and 26.3 percent used other illegal drugs.

For 16- and 17-year-olds who used drugs, 12.4 percent use inhalants and 35.2 percent used painkillers, while 81.4 percent used marijuana and 34.2 percent used other illegal drugs, according to the report.

Forty-five percent of teens who used inhalants suffer from psychiatric disorders, compared with 29 percent of teens who used other drugs.

Although only 8 percent of people treated for drug abuse in 2006 were 12 to 17 years old, they represented 48 percent of hospital treatment for inhalant use alone or in combination with other drugs.

Adolescent girls seem particularly vulnerable to inhalant abuse. According to the report, 41 percent of hospital admissions for inhalant abuse involved teenage girls, whereas only 30 percent of hospital admissions for non-inhalant drug abuse involved teen girls.

Among 17-year-olds, 59.3 percent of new inhalant users move on to nitrous oxide (laughing gas), also called whippets.

"One teen we talked with abused nitrous oxide to the point where she had metabolic dysfunction, vitamin B12 deficiency, loss of coordination and loss of concentration, and had to be hospitalized," Clark said.

The most important thing for parents to do is to be aware that preteens and young teens are at risk for using inhalants, just as older teens are, and they should be discussing these issues with their children, Clark said.

"Parents should be able to clearly explain that inhalants are not drugs of abuse, but deadly poisons that while they may produce an effect also produce unintended consequences," Clark said.

More information

For more on inhalants, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

SOURCES: H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Center for Substance Abuse, Rockville, Md.

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