U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today asked the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to combat" huffing," the deliberate inhaling of common household items, as part of the office's comprehensive efforts to curb drug abuse and drugged driving. There are more than 1,400 products that are highly-addictive and dangerous if they are inhaled. Most common among them include aerosols such as computer cleaner and spray paint, solvents such as nail polish remover and paint thinner, and gases such as butane and air conditioning coolant. Trends come and go and often vary by location. For example, kids in southern Wisconsin have been inhaling Freon from air-conditioning units. Over the past three years, several children have been hospitalized and at least one has died as a result.
"Many do not realize that huffing has deadly consequences -- these household products can damage the brain, heart, liver or kidneys. They can harm memory and sense of smell. Tragically, anyone can die the first or any time they huff from cardiac arrest. We must take steps to ensure that people understand the risks and consequences of huffing common household products," Kohl wrote in a letter to ONDCP Director R. Gil Kerlikowski.
Huffing can also lead to deadly accidents. Just last month, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin man drove across a median and into oncoming traffic, killing himself and a passenger in another vehicle. A can of computer cleaner was found near his car at the accident scene and a toxicology screen found that the man had a high level of computer cleaner in his system. Investigators determined that he had been huffing just prior to the accident.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two million kids ages 12 to 17 have abused inhalants, and one in five kids admits to trying them by the time they are in eighth grade. According to SAMHSA, 12-year olds are more likely to abuse common household products than smoke cigarettes or use marijuana. The SAMHSA study also found that the majority of Americans abusing inhalants are actually adults and that adults make up more than half of the patients admitted to substance abuse treatment programs for abusing inhalants.
Kohl specifically requested that the ONDCP include huffing as part of its efforts to curb drugged driving, expand outreach to local organizations working to tackle huffing in their communities and work with manufacturers and retailers to keep products that can be huffed out of the hands of abusers.
In his letter to the ONDCP, Kohl noted that: "Many manufacturers have already placed warning labels on their products to warn both parents and potential abusers that huffing may be harmful or fatal. Many retailers have taken steps to prevent minors from purchasing products that are commonly inhaled such as requiring cashiers to verify the customer's age for certain products to ensure that he or she is at least 18 years old before completing the sale and limiting the number of products that can be purchased at once. These practical procedures have been successful, and I encourage ONDCP to bolster their work with manufacturers and retailers by increasing education and responding to products newly subject to abuse."