These days, there is a lot more for kids to Just Say No to than marijuana and cigarettes.
Joining the ever-growing list of mind-altering chemicals worthy of an anti-drug campaign are some seemingly innocuous substances such as spray paint, pressurized air, and quick-dry correction fluids used on paper. These products, and thousands more, are presenting an ever increasing danger to youths caught up in what has been termed huffing, according to Vern Rucker, an officer with the Cortez Police Department.
Weve been experiencing a lot of this in our schools, and it is a really big deal, Rucker said at a presentation Monday morning for the School Community Youth Coalition. It seems to especially be a problem with younger students because they can do it at home and nobody even notices.
Huffing, also called sniffing, dusting and bagging, is the act of taking any kind of vapor or gas into your lungs through your nose or mouth, Rucker said. The variety of techniques individuals use to inhale the fumes are as numerous as the products sought for the high.
There are more than 1,400 household products that kids can use to get high, Rucker said. They sniff it. They spray it in a bag then inhale from the bag. They paint their fingernails then scratch the substance off to release the fumes.
Rucker, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer at Cortez Middle School, shared numerous stories of students in Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 schools who have been caught huffing in one way or another.
I was giving a DARE presentation in a class and noticed a kid who was constantly sniffing his sweatshirt sleeve, Rucker said. I took the jacket from him and the arm had been soaked in some kind of petroleum substance. He was getting high in class.
The dangers of huffing cannot be underestimated, and neither should the prevalence of the activity, Rucker said.
It is accessible, cheap and legal for all intents and purposes, he said. It is easy for kids to do it, and kids are curious. They want that quick high, that extreme rush, and then they come down super quick without being detected.
According to the Alliance for Consumer Education, short-term effects of inhalant abuse include headaches, muscle weakness, severe mood swings and violent behavior, apathy and loss of consciousness. Long-term users can suffer from weight loss, muscle weakness, irritability and depression. Harmful irreversible effects include hearing loss, limb spasm, bone marrow and central nervous system and brain damage.
Alliance statistics state one in five students have abused inhalants to achieve some type of high by the time they are in eighth grade.
Far more serious than all the temporary and long-term impacts of inhalant abuse is the possibility of Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, Rucker said.
It only takes one time, he said. Kids can die the first time they try huffing. The substance can coat their lungs, and they can die.
Currently there is no treatment for inhalant abuse.
There are no cures, Rucker said. You know, if you are addicted to heroin there is a plan of attack. But there is no real cure for this, and the failure rate is really high. That is what is really scary for our young people. They get started, and there is not much for them in the way of treatment.
Coalition members discussed what steps the community could take to prevent inhalant abuse among youths.
Jim Olson, manager of Slavens True Value Hardware, noted they require identification for the purchase of products such as pressurized air.
I get their drivers license and ID, and we track it, Olson said. If you are willing to give me your ID, you are probably being honest about what you are buying the stuff for. Much of this stuff is literally under lock and key in our store.
Meeting participants discussed the possibility of encouraging other businesses in Cortez to participate in a public information campaign on the dangers of inhalant abuse.
Im wondering if as a coalition we can engage the businesses to follow a model and, possibly, with every can of air we sell in a business you have a piece of information that goes in the bag that educates consumers, said Rose Jergens, executive director of The Nest Child Advocacy Center.
If we could get people educated that would be a large part of the fight, he said. Ninety percent of people who buy this stuff dont even realize what it is used for.
For more information, contact Danielle Brafford or Cindy Houston at 565-8947.
On the Net: Alliance for Consumer Education Inhalant.Org, www.inhalant.org.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]