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Being informed about inhalants may save lives

By Calun Reece | health | April 05, 2013

Inhalants have a devastating effect, said Carrie Jensen, prevention coordinator, Army Substance Abuse Program.

Becoming knowledgeable about inhalants may save a life, which is why National Inhalants Awareness Week is March 17 to 23.

The word 'inhalants' refers to vapors from toxic substances, which are inhaled to reach a quick high, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World website.

More than a thousand household and other common household products can be abused as inhalants.

"We clean with (household cleaners) every day," Jensen said, "and, we're inhaling those fumes. Mixing chemicals sometimes can have greater effects – (for example), bleach (and) ammonia."

Children and youth often begin with common household products when first experimenting with inhalants.

Some of the most common substances that are abused are shoe polish, glue, lighter fluid, spray paint, paint solvents and helium.

"Helium is one that a lot of people aren't aware of," Jensen said. "There was a 14-year-old girl (who) died from inhaling helium."

People like to do it for fun, but one hit of helium can cause 400 brain cells to be destroyed, Jensen said.

"It makes people laugh; it makes us talk funny, so we're not aware of the dangers of a lot of this stuff," Jensen said.

Short-term effects of using inhalants, include slurred speech, inability to coordinate movement, impaired judgment, hallucinations and delusions, and unconsciousness.

Long-term users have experienced consequences, including muscle weakness, depression, serious damage to inner organs, memory impairment, diminished intelligence, hearing loss and death.

"What people don't realize is when you inhale something that your body is not used to, it can have an adverse effect, and you could have Sudden Sniffing Death (Syndrome)," Jensen said.

Death can occur the first time or the hundredth time an inhalant is used, according to the Drug-Free World website.

"Just be aware of your surroundings and talk to your kids," Jensen said.

For more information about inhalants, call 785-240-3200 or visit drugfreeworld.org.

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