WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least 82 U.S. youths have died since 1995 engaging in “the choking game” in which they try to experience a fleeting “high” by cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.
An unknown number of youths, mostly boys, are taking part in the practice in which they strangle themselves with their hands or a noose or have someone else strangle them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report.
“They hope to get a cool and dreamy feeling, as they’ve described it,” said Robin Toblin of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, who led the report.
The report, the first effort to track this nationwide, identified the deaths of 82 people ages 6 to 19 from 1995 to 2007 that appear to have been caused by the choking game. The CDC said the report likely underestimates the toll.
Boys accounted for 87 percent of the deaths in 31 states, the CDC said, with the greatest number of deaths among boys ages 11 to 16.
They are trying to achieve the brief euphoric state caused by cerebral hypoxia, or the cutting off of the oxygen supply to the brain, the CDC said. Most deaths occurred when a child was alone.
It also is known as the “blackout game,” “passout game,” “scarf game” and “space monkey,” the CDC said.
The CDC does not think publicity caused by the report will lead to more children trying the practice, Toblin said.
“We chose to go ahead with the report because we think it’s critical that parents, educators and health care providers become aware of this phenomenon so they can look for the warning signs of it,” Toblin told reporters.
Death or serious injury can occur if strangulation is prolonged. Nonfatal consequences may include brain damage, seizures, hemorrhages of the eyes, or concussions and fractures due to falls after losing consciousness, the CDC said.
With official records of choking game deaths lacking, the CDC said it relied on news media accounts of deaths.
The earliest reported death was in 1995, and three or fewer deaths were identified annually through 2004. The CDC said 22 deaths were identified in 2005, 35 in 2006 and nine in 2007.
The report described two deaths. In February 2006, a boy, 13, was found by his mother slumped in his bedroom with a belt around his neck. Other teens came forward to say that the choking game had been played at local parties, the CDC said.
In April 2005, a girl, 13, was found hanging from a noose fashioned from a belt and shoelace on the door of her bedroom closet. The girl previously had told a cousin she recently had played the choking game in the locker room at school.
The CDC said it appears teens are learning about the practice from peers or from Web videos.
Warning signs that a child may be trying the practice include bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck, severe headaches, the presence of ropes, scarves or belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs or found knotted on the floor, or the unexplained presence of dog leashes or choke collars.
The CDC did not count deaths involving “autoerotic asphyxiation” — choking oneself during sexual stimulation — and also excluded deaths ruled as suicide.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand