October is child health month

By News Dept.
Posted 10/28/99

How many adults would bat an eyelash if they saw a teenager purchasing a can of air freshener or computer screen cleaner? How unusual is it on any given day to see a couple of 12-year-old girls in a …

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October is child health month


How many adults would bat an eyelash if they saw a teenager purchasing a can of air freshener or computer screen cleaner? How unusual is it on any given day to see a couple of 12-year-old girls in a grocery store, shelling out small change for a bottle of nail polish remover? Sadly, these actions are not always as innocent as they seem. American children and teenagers are abusing these and other everyday substances in numbers that should worry parents, teachers and others who care about kids.

It’s called inhalant abuse, and it’s on the rise. To draw attention to this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is focusing on drug abuse prevention, with a special emphasis on inhalant abuse. Inhalant abuse may also be called solvent abuse, huffing of sniffing. Fumes from the produce are inhaled directly from the container, or from a bag or saturated rag. Some substances used during inhalant abuse include model glue, paints, gasoline, butane fuel, cooking spray, cosmetics, toiletries and aerosol air freshener. Most of these so-called inhalants are found at home under the sink.

In middle schools, high schools and sometimes even elementary schools, kids know a lot about using substances with fumes to get high. Indeed, 21 percent of eighth-graders have tried some form of them. But, as with most substance abuse issues, kids don’t understand the lasting damage these substances can cause. Only 40 percent of eighth-graders and 47 percent of tenth-graders think there is risk in trying inhalants once or twice. But the scariest thing about inhalants is that your child could die from using them only once.

Here is some additional information you may not know about inhalants:

• Ongoing inhalant abuse is associated with failure in school, delinquency and inability to adjust socially.

• Inhalant abuse can lead to abuse of other substances.

• Chronic solvent abuse dissolves brain cells. Chronic use of any inhalants increases the risk of brain injury.

• Death can occur from asphyxia, suffocation and aspiration, engaging in dangerous behavior, suicide and sudden sniffing death syndrome. Another cause of death is suicide; coming down from an inhalant high causes some people to feel extremely depressed and take their own lives.

There are many reasons why children find inhalant abuse appealing. These produces are cheap, accessible and legal. It’s easy for a kid to make an excuse for possessing these common household products. And kids seem to enjoy abusing inhalants with other kids. Perhaps the most important reason young people are abusing inhalants is that the public is largely unaware of how dangerous this activity can be.

Prevention is not easy, as these substances are legal, available and found in most households. The best way to fight inhalant abuse is to tell children how harmful these products can be. Explain how they can cause both short and long-term health problems and even death. It is important to talk to kids at an early age because inhalant abuse often starts as early as eight or nine years of age.

Signs that someone has abused inhalants include:

• Breath and clothing that smell like chemicals

• Spots or sores around the mouth

• Paint or stains on body or clothing

• Drunk, dazed or glassy-eyed look

• Nausea or loss of appetite

• Anxiety, excitability or irritability

Chronic inhalant abuse is a difficult form of substance abuse to treat. It is best to recognize and start treatment before the problem becomes a habit. If you think someone you know has this problem, he or she should seek professional help immediately. You may save that person’s life.

Tragedy can be avoided through open discussion, involvement with our children and education. We urge parents, teachers and caregivers to talk with children in their care about substance abuse. And I urge children never to abuse inhalants - not even once - talk your friends out of it if they’re considering it. Parents and kids can enlist the help of their pediatrician to learn more about the dangers of substance abuse and ways to stay clear of it.

Any experimentation with drugs is potentially harmful. And the dangers of inhalants coupled with the ease of abusing them make this an urgent fight for our kids’ futures. We hope all who care about children and teenagers will focus some time and attention on preventing drug and inhaling abuse this month and continue their efforts long after.

Submitted by Washington County Public Health and Home Care & The Rural Health Networking Grant.