An estimated 1 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 used an inhalant in the past year, according to a March 25 report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Today, getting high from chemical fumes goes way beyond sniffing model airplane glue in the 1950s and 1960s. A variety of liquids, aerosols and gases found throughout the house -- or purchased on the Internet -- can be inhaled or sniffed, traveling quickly from the lungs into the bloodstream and overloading a child's organs.
"It can be deadly the very first time they do it," says Pasierb, noting that it can lead to Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, which "basically shuts down all the body systems. That's why you see so many high-profile deaths around sniffing." Among recent entries into these chemicals of abuse are computer dusters and octane boosters from auto parts stores.
Products to Look Out For:
Volatile solvents: gasoline, paint thinner, correction fluid, felt-tip markers, nail polish, nail polish remover, glue.
Aerosols: propellants found in spray cans containing paint, deodorant, hair sprays.
Gases: Used in butane cigarette lighters, air conditioners and propane tanks. Nitrous oxide in medical anesthetics, also found in balloons and small containers called whippets.
Nitrites: Used to intensify sexual experiences. These include room deodorizers containing cyclohexyl nitrite. Other nitrites easily purchased from adult bookstores or over the Internet are amyl nitrite, which comes in tiny capsules or packs and butyl nitrite, which comes in tiny bottles. Both are popped or snapped open -- giving them the nicknames "poppers" or "snappers."
Signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse from The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition in Chattanooga, Tenn.:
Paint stains on clothing or body, especially face and hands.
Presence of chemical-soaked rags, plastic or paper bags, socks or clothing or latex balloons.
Drunk, dazed, dizzy or drowsy appearance that cannot be explained.
Anxiety, irritability, excitability.
Red or runny eyes or nose.
Spots, sores or rash around the mouth or nose.
The smell of chemicals on the breath.
Nausea, loss of appetite, drooling.
Home medicine cabinets, which often store powerful prescription painkillers, sedatives and antidepressants, are "the No. 1 source of supply when it comes to prescription drug abuse," says Pasierb.
Parents may inadvertently be setting their children up for trouble with casual attitudes about handling those drugs. Moms and Dads who use each other's prescription drugs, as well as parents who give their children their own prescription drugs for particular health problems, are modeling bad behavior for their children.
"It's setting up this relationship that using somebody else's prescription drugs is perfectly fine," Pasierb warns. "We're treating our prescription drugs like over-the-counter drugs."
Nadine J. Kaslow, chief psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta, says parents should be aware if things like medications are missing, and address that right away. "I think you need to be pretty direct in these conversations," she said.
The Partnership, along with Abbott Pharmaceutical, advises parents to take several steps to deter children's abuse of medications legitimately prescribed to other family members:
Things You Can Do