Inhalant abuse can leave children breathless, lifeless

National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week highlights problem

These days, the wolf that's huffing to blow your house down could very well be your own child.

Huffing, bagging and sniffing are terms used to describe inhalant use a cheap, legal and deadly way children are getting high off of a variety of common, household products. Inhalant use can lead to major brain damage or death. And youth in Craig are not immune.

According to a survey done in 2000, the use of inhalants is prevalent in Moffat County, 17 percent of seventh-grade students and 17 percent of eighth-grade students admitted to having sniffed or inhaled substances to get high once or more in the past 12 months. Nationally, a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showed the 95 percent of parents believe their child has never abused inhalants. Yet, the same study showed that 20.5 percent of eighth graders had done just that. More than 1,000 common, useful and legal household, office and classroom products can be used to get high.

March 19-23 is National Inhalants and Poisons Week (NIPAW), designed to improve awareness of this threat to children, and Grand Futures for Moffat County is participating with the hope of educating parents and young people about this deadly practice.

Cindy Biskup, Project Manager of Grand Futures, said that 12 to 17 years of age is when youth abuse the common, easy-to-get products. From the ages of 18 to 25, they move on to nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and other nitrites.

"These kids can die the first, tenth or hundredth time they use," Biskup said. "There are so many inhalants, each affecting different parts of the body. You're always taking a chance on damaging your body for the rest of your life."

Even if death doesn't occur, brain damage could be so severe it renders the child practically catatonic. Abuse over a series of years could lead to major organ failure, such as the liver or kidneys, causing death.

"We've had very few incidents, but that's not to say it's not being done," said Lt. John Forgay of the Craig Police Department.

The substances used are common, everyday solvents, and are not illegal to buy or have. Huffing is included in prevention programs the police sponsor, Forgay said.

"As with any drug, the kids don't know how they'll react to it, how it will affect them," said Forgay. "If it is being done, it's being done quietly."

This is the fifth year that NIPAW has been observed. Usually sponsored by the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, these organizations depend on local organizations to get the word out this year, because federal monies are not yet available for a national campaign.

"Parents need to have constant awareness as kids age into the risk years," Biskup said.

Telltale signs of abuse are: Paint on hands, mouth or nose; chemical breath odor; red or runny eyes or nose; spots or sore around the mouth; drunk, dazed or dizzy appearance; anxiety, excitability, irritability; nausea, loss of appetite; chemically-soaked rags, socks or bags; missing abusable household items.

For more information on inhalant abuse, call Grand Futures Prevention Coalition at (970) 824-5752.

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