Huffing: The drug abuse problem hiding in plain sight

Published: Mar. 16, 2016 at 6:47 PM PDT
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It's the substance abuse problem most teens know about, but about which parents are often unaware. Worse yet, it's cheap, legal and available anywhere and it's deadly.

It's called huffing--inhaling the fumes from a variety of common household products. Those who do it are risking a lot.

"Many of our teens don't realize the severity of huffing," says Joleen Dulluhn, the Director of Operations and a therapist at Quest Counseling and Consulting in Reno.

They don't know you can die of it. It's not like some of the other drugs they hear about on TV or on YouTube where they know it's a horrible drug. It robs the body of oxygen, causing an immediate high akin to drunkenness, often leaving irreparable physical changes and brain damage.

"What it does to your organs is what you don't realize," says Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong.

And the products that cause this damage are all around us. Aerosol cans, spray paints, thinners, fuels, even personal grooming items.

"Things like Axe, the cologne spray. Many teens were huffing Axe for awhile," says Dalluhn.

She says 15 to 20 percent of the clients she sees locally have been huffing. It's most common among teens, but it's killing young adults as well. The U-S Military reports a handful of deaths to huffing last year.

In fact Furlong says he lost a friend to huffing while in the military. A group was inhaling halon gas from a fire extinguisher.

"He seized up and the other two got frightened and ran. As a result they left him laying on the bed in need of urgent medical care and he died."

What makes this practice so dangerous is all of the products are legal and readily available and they hide in plain sight.

"They're on the shelves. They're in the cabinets. They're in the garage," says Furlong. "They are common everyday things most people would never even think of looking twice at."

For instance, could any product look less dangerous than a can of computer keyboard cleaner? It poses an increasing danger because it leaves no residue and would not look out of place next to a child's computer, but dusting--as it's called--can be deadly.

"I just advise parents if they're seeing a can of spray paint in the room or their child is needing Dust Off frequently or if they're buying Dust Off. That's a red flag," says Dalluhn.

Beyond that, as with any substance abuse, parents should watch for behavioral changes.

None of this will come as news to most teens, except perhaps the potential risks. Huffing has been out there for some time, but parents may not know the danger and they need to.