U.S. children turn to inhaling to get high: study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More 12-year-olds in the United States admit to using potentially deadly inhalants to get high than have used marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens combined, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.

A homeless boy sniffs glue at a beach in Tangier October 9, 2009. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Among this age group, alcohol was the only intoxicating substance used more than inhalants, according to data from 2006-2008 surveys on drug use and health compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sniffing common household products, such as gasoline, nail polish, bleach, paint solvents and cleaning spray is like taking poison and many people do not understand the risks or consequences, the health officials said.

Inhaling vapors to get high, or “huffing,” can cause cardiac arrest. It can lead to brain, heart, liver and kidney damage and can be addictive.

“It’s frustrating because the danger comes from a variety of very common household products that are legal, they’re easy to get, they’re laying around the home and it’s easy for kids to buy them,” Pamela Hyde, of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said.

“Kids and parents don’t think of these things as dangerous because they were never meant to be used to be intoxicating,” Hyde told a news conference to discuss the data.

About 7 percent of 12-year-olds have used an inhalant to get high, compared with about 5 percent who have taken prescription drugs for nonmedical use, the surveys showed. About 1.4 percent of 12-year-olds have used marijuana and fewer than one percent have used cocaine or hallucinogens.

The rate of inhalant use of that age has remained steady over the past few years, but officials are concerned that young people increasingly do not see abusing inhalants as risky.

“Unfortunately between the years 2001 and 2009, 8th graders’ perception that inhalants are great risk decreased from about 75 percent to about 58 percent, “Dr. Timothy Condon of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said, calling it a dangerous trend.

“We know, historically, that when the perception of risk declines we often almost always see an increase in use,” Condon added.

Adults abuse inhalants too, but health officials are targeting youngsters and parents in a new public information campaign because they say children are more vulnerable.

Editing by David Storey