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Sniffing Glue, Paint An Increasing Problem

Fri., April 14, 1995

The national fad of inhaling household chemicals to get high is becoming popular in the Inland Northwest, especially among youths.

Spokane and Kootenai County officials said more teenagers are breathing fumes from nail polish, paint and glue. The products are inexpensive and easy to find.

They’re also deadly.

“Inhalants are very dangerous,” said Gunthild Sondhi, a drugprevention specialist with the Spokane County Substance Abuse Center. “Sudden death can occur the first time you do it.”

But that risk isn’t stopping youths, usually between the ages of 7 and 15, from spraying paint in bags, putting them over their faces and breathing the fumes.

Last year, more than 1,000 young people died from inhalant abuse, which is being experimented with more than cocaine and LSD, officials said. “It’s always been around,” said Lt. Steve Braun, who supervises the police department’s drug unit. “It’s just coming back.” Spokane police arrest about three people a month for sniffing glue, which is a misdemeanor in Spokane. The most commonly used brand is regular model airplane glue, Braun said.

Downtown patrol officers also regularly make arrests when they catch people inhaling spray-paint fumes. Those suspects usually are easy to spot: Their faces are smeared with silver or gold metallic paint, the color of choice among users.

“It’s more potent than other (colors),” Braun said. “Sometimes, they spray it right up their noses.”

But Braun said he hasn’t noticed an increase in arrests of teenagers for inhalant abuse. Most of the people caught sniffing chemicals are transients or addicts already hooked on one drug or another, he said.

Last year, at least 20 people went to the Kootenai Medical Center emergency room suffering from the effects of inhalants, said Roger Evans, director of emergency services.

“They’ll have a strong odor on their breath and on their clothing of whatever they were inhaling,” Evans said. “Either they’re acting out in a bizarre fashion or they’re nearing a state of unconsciousness.”

Evans said he suspects at least that manyhave come to the hospital not because of the effects of the inhalants themselves but because they were hurt while high on the fumes.

Most patients are under 16.

“These are probably one of the most dangerous drugs a kid can get into,” said Norm Mahoney, drug education coordinator for the Coeur d’Alene School District.

An alcohol and drug survey last year showed that 20 percent of 10th-graders in Coeur d’Alene have tried inhalants. Thirty-three percent of the city’s eighth-graders have experimented with them.

Gasoline, paint thinner and glue appear to be among the most popular inhalants among students, Mahoney said, but last year, a spray used to clean computers became popular.

The students refer to the cleaners as “dusters.”

“It seems to have pretty bizarre effects,” Mahoney said. “They get really goofy; they do crazier things than normal.”

Since 1980, 15 people have died in Idaho from inhalant abuse, according to the Center for Vital Statistics in Boise.

Three years ago, a man died at the Huetter rest area west of Coeur d’Alene after sniffing gold spray paint, sheriff’s officials said.

The man had put the paint in a bag, held it up to his face and then placed a sleeping bag over his head.

But officials concede this is not a new problem. Fifteen years ago, a teenager died after sniffing a nonsticking cooking spray, said Capt. Carl Bergh of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department.

“We’ve had sporadic problems with inhalants for years,” he said.

Other household products such as typewriter correction fluids, hair spray, shoe polish and deodorants are abused the most nationwide.

Also common are anesthetics, such as laughing gas, which can be rented or bought by the tank. Sniffing it deprives the body of oxygen and can damage the brain, Sondhi said.

At first, the high may be short and intense, but it will last a little longer each time the user inhales more fumes. Each time, though, more fumes are needed to get the same effect, she said.

“Right away, it will increase your blood pressure, your heart rate, and cause all sorts of other side effects.”

Short-term effects include nausea, coughing, nosebleeds and a loss of appetite. Lung, kidney, liver and bone marrow damage are some longterm effects, as well as fatigue and permanent damage to the central nervous system.

xxxx Signs of Abuse According to officials of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, here are some warning signs to look for to determine if a person is abusing inhalants: Rashes or sores around the nose and mouth. Changes in behavior. Odors of solvents on body. Dilated pupils. Redness of eyes. Unusual salivation. Trash bags and plastic bags in bedroom and around the house. Rented nitrous oxide tanks.

Tags: drug abuse

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