The 'huffing' epidemic

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports the abuse of inhalants (commonly referred to as huffing) is widespread across the country. They also believe cases may be underreported because signs of inhalant abuse are not often obvious.

What is 'huffing?'

Inhalant abuse, commonly called huffing, is the purposeful inhalation of chemical vapors to achieve an altered mental or physical state, which for most abusers is a euphoric effect. Abusers inhale vapors emitted from a wide range of substances. In fact, chemical vapors used as inhalants can be found in over 1,000 common household products.

There are several general categories for substances that may be used as inhalants:

Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature if left in unsealed containers. Paint thinner, gasoline, correction fluid, felt-tip markers, nail polish and remover, and glue (such as rubber cement) all contain volatile solvents.

Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents such as toluene—one of the most common solvents found in aerosols. Common aerosols include paint, deodorant, hair products, cooking products, and fabric protector. Silver and gold spray paint are particularly popular among inhalant abusers.

Gases are substances that lack definite shape or volume such as refrigerants and medical anesthetics. Abusers frequently inhale gases found in butane lighters, air conditioning units, and propane tanks. Medical anesthetics such as ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide are also abused.

Nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, is abused more frequently than any other gas. It can be obtained from whipped cream dispensers or products that boost octane levels in racing cars. It may also be purchased in balloons or in small, sealed vials called whippets, which are sold at raves or drug paraphernalia stores.

Nitrites are a group of chemicals including cyclohexyl nitrite, amyl nitrite, and butyl nitrite. Nitrites are used mainly to enhance sexual experiences rather than to achieve a euphoric effect. Cyclohexyl nitrite is found in room deodorizers. Amyl nitrite comes in small, mesh-covered, sealed capsules that are popped or snapped in order to release the vapors. Because of this popping or snapping, these capsules are frequently called poppers or snappers. Butyl nitrite is often sold in small bottles that, like amyl nitrite capsules, are referred to as poppers. Nitrites are available in adult bookstores and shops and over the Internet.

Who abuses inhalants?

According to the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the number of new inhalant abusers rose approximately 158 percent from an estimated 392,000 in 1990 to 1,010,000 in 1999. Though this survey is now dated, it does effectively show the weight of the epidemic. The primary user group, based on the study, is those ages 12 to 17. It's currently believed that inhalants are the fourth most abused substances in the country.

* Source: US Department of Justice

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