Preventing inhalant abuse among children and adolescents
Inhalants include a broad range of drugs – gases, aerosols, or solvents that are breathed in and absorbed through the lungs. Most are ingredients in household or industrial chemical products: these include organic solvents found in cleaning products, fast-drying glues, and nail polish removers; fuels such as gasoline and kerosene; and propellant gases such as freon and compressed hydrofluorocarbons that are used in aerosol cans. A small number of recreational inhalant drugs are pharmaceutical products that are used illicitly, such as anesthetics including ether and nitrous oxide as well as alkyl nitrites, a volatile anti-angina drug. Inhalants are easily addictive and can be purchased at low cost from local shopkeepers and shoemakers without suspicion.
Sniffing, huffing and bagging
The most common methods for inhaling solvents are sniffing, huffing and bagging. Sniffing occurs directly from containers, sometimes heating the containers to produce fumes at a more rapid rate. This places users at high risk because many inhalants are highly flammable. Huffing involves soaking fabric into a solvent which is then placed on the user’s nose and mouth where chemical fumes are inhaled. Bagging occurs where the substance is placed in a bag which is then placed over the nose and mouth for the user to inhale the fumes. A state of hallucination is produced, not unlike an inebriated condition marked by incoherent speech, inability to maintain balance and discern things clearly. A feeling of euphoria and exhilaration is common. Also common are dizziness, loss of coordination, muscular movement, slurring of speech, mental deterioration, hallucinations and finally drowsiness which can lead on to coma and respiratory failure.
Neurological, respiratory, and digestive system damage are common effects of inhalant abuse among children and adolescents. Some solvents can cause hearing loss, limb spasms, and damage to the central nervous system and brain. Serious effects also include liver and kidney damage and blood oxygen depletion. Death from inhalants is generally caused by a very high concentration of fumes. Brain damage is typically seen with chronic long term use. Where data is available, precise statistics on deaths caused by inhalant abuse are difficult to determine, as it is considered a dramatically under-reported cause of death. This is due to a cause-of-death determination being attributed to the side-effects of inhalant abuse, such as a blood vessel rupture in the brain, a heart attack, or accidental injury rather than to the abuse itself.
The lack of awareness about inhalant abuse is a serious concern. In India, this issue has a low profile and data on the extent of the problem is virtually non-existent. As a result, addicted children can inhale substances openly. No preventive measures are in place and no long term drug rehabilitation facilities exist for children.