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Published: 3/19/2004

Use of inhalants spikes in middle school students

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON - Three years after a national campaign ended warning parents of the dangers of teenage "huffing" - sniffing household chemicals to get an instant "high" - the number of users is spiking again because current middle-school children and their parents don't know the dangers, officials said yesterday.

The Department of Health and Human Services says new surveys show inhalants such as paint thinners, hair sprays, gases in butane lighters, markers, correction fluid, and room deodorizers are used increasingly by sixth-graders and eighth-graders who don't realize how dangerous they are or that they affect different people in different ways.

Parents often either don't know what their children are doing or think it's the modern and unharmful equivalent of sniffing airplane model glue.

Education campaigns in 1995 and 2001 helped drive down the number of users, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that from 2002 to 2003, the number of eighth-grade users increased 14 percent.

The 2001 campaign helped decrease the number of users from 12.8 percent of eighth-graders in 1995 to 7.7 percent, according to director Nora Volkon, but last year usage went up to 8.7 percent.

Usage by sixth-graders has increased 26 percent. In 2002, more than 2.6 million children between 12 and 17 had used an inhalant at least once.

Concern over use of inhalants drew Kim and Marissa Manlove from Indianapolis to Washington yesterday for a news conference to talk about their son David, a 16-year-old who had just finished his sophomore year. He and a friend were sniffing a can of computer cleaner in a backyard swimming pool when the chemical caused his lungs to shut down and he drowned, they said.

"It's the worst kind of loss,'' said David's father, Kim Manlove, who with his wife speaks to youth groups about their son.

"Addiction is a powerful disease with tragic consequences. Even when you do all the right things, it can all go wrong.''

Stephen Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-free America, said a new report by his group shows that the nation is back to 1993 again, when few understood the dangers of huffing "and parents almost universally thought it was just a silly part of growing up.''

In 1995, 23 percent of teens had abused inhalants, according to his group's data.

Now, a whole new generation of middle-school students needs to be educated about it, he said, because a new survey shows fewer teens than a few years ago know they can die or get brain damage from sniffing. "This could be a worsening trend, especially among sixth and eighth-graders," he said.

Jane Maxwell, a University of Texas researcher, said that just in Texas between 1991 and 1998 there were 140 deaths where an inhalant was listed as cause of death on the death certificate but that many more suspected deaths were not included. She said inhalant users are 95 percent less likely than other drug users to get treatment. Another effect is that they are more likely to drop out of school.

There are no accurate national figures on deaths from inhalants because cause of death is often listed as something else, but it is believed there are at least 125 deaths a year.

Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, said that one improvement is that there are now inhalant treatment guidelines (http://www.inhalants.org).

Ohio is one of six states that will participate in a new stop-huffing effort sponsored by the Alliance for Consumer Education and the American School Counselor Association. The other states are Pennsylvania, Alaska, Alabama, Virginia, and Texas.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:

amcfeatters@nationalpress.com or 202-662-7071.



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