At age 12, most kids are concerned with finding a ride to the movies and making it through middle school. Ashley Upchurch was younger -- 11 -- when she became addicted to inhaling air dusters as a way to get high.
"It was a cheap high, it was instant, and it was intense," Upchurch, now 17 and sober for over two years, said today in a Washington D.C. seminar about the danger inhalants pose to children.
New data released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that 12-year-old kids are more likely to get high from common, legal household substances including aerosol computer cleaners, air fresheners, hair spray or shoe polish than use cigarettes or marijuana.
I used it with other "good kids," Upchurch said. "We used inhalants everywhere. At home, school, in cars and even in public."
Upchurch isn't alone in experimenting with inhalant abuse, commonly known as huffing. National drug use surveys by SAMHSA between 2006 and 2008 indicate that just under 7 percent of 12 year olds have used inhalants to get high.
Freon found in air conditioners was the inhalant of choice for Amber Suri Talley, a 17-year old from Lexington, N.C.
She had been using for approximately six months when one hit stopped her heart -- she was later found dead from cardiac arrest and asphyxiation, the garbage bag used to keep in the fumes still covering her face.
This sudden and tragic death, known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, can occur even with a teen's first time sniffing.
"I didn't know she was sniffing until after. ... We knew something was up, but we couldn't pinpoint it," Amber's father, Kevin Talley, said. "The effects of it are so different from any other drug you've seen."
"Sniffing" toxic substances to get high has become a surprisingly common pastime among young teens, though this practice isn't even on the radar for most parents.
"We're hoping [with this conference] to make people more aware of the signs to look for, and to get safety caps put on air conditioners. Kids today are getting creative, they're not using the traditional drug outlet," Talley said.
"Raising awareness is really important because people don't know just how common inhalant abuse is among young people, it's right up there with marijuana," said Jennifer Caudle, an osteopathic family physician and director of the family medicine section of the Department of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.
"It's easy to get, cheap and legal," she said, and as many kids and parents fail to realize, potentially deadly.
One in five students in the United States has used an inhalant to get high by the time he or she reaches eighth grade, according to the NIPC.
Sniffing is particularly popular in younger teens because it is so readily available. Markers, whip cream cans, glues, spray paint, air fresheners and butane cooking spray are just a few of the more than a thousand products that can be used to get high by sniffing.
Unfortunately, younger teens are also the most affected by using these toxic substances, said Dessa Bergen-Cico, assistant professor in the department of Health and Wellness at Syracuse University.