News Release

March 16, 2006

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

Putting the Spotlight on Inhalant Abuse

National Poison Prevention Week

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Alarming statistics have prompted the Connecticut Poison Control Center to highlight inhalant abuse during the National Poison Prevention Week campaign March 19 through 25.

According to figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 627,000 inhalant users in 1994; in 2001 there were over a million and almost three-fourths of those were under the age of 18. In 2003, almost 13 percent of tenth graders have tried inhalants at least once.

“These are very scary numbers,” said Amy Hanoian-Fontana, community education specialist in the poison center at UConn Health Center. “Not only is the abuse going up, but the age of first-time users is going down. In 1989, the average age was just below 13; now it’s 11,” she said. “We are seeing statistics that show 44 percent increase nationwide in inhalant abuse in sixth graders. This is a very risky trend among young people, most of whom have no idea how dangerous inhalant abuse is. Sudden death can occur the first time an inhalant is used,” said Hanoian-Fontana.

“Inhalants can damage the liver, kidney, and bone marrow, and they can cause severe headaches, breathing problems, nausea, seizures, tremors, brain damage, loss of hearing, vision, or smell, muscle impairment and other physiologic, neural problems that can last a lifetime,” said Bernard Sangalli, toxicologist and administrative director of the poison center. “Abusers can also die from respiratory failure, heart failure, suffocation, or accident while inhaling toxic substances.”

Signs and symptoms of inhalant use include:

  • Drunk, dazed appearance;
  • Chemical smells on breath, body or clothing;
  • Paint stains on body or clothing;
  • Unusual or large collections of paint, spray cans, room deodorizers, etc.;
  • Paraphernalia, such as plastic bags, rags, balloons, empty cardboard toilet paper tubes;
  • Red eyes, runny nose or nose bleeds;
  • Personality changes;
  • Slurred speech, staggering or stumbling, or wide-based gait;
  • Loss of control of arm and leg movement.

If you witness someone inhaling products from aerosol cans or from a saturated cloth, you should:

  • Remain calm;
  • Do not excite, or argue with, the person – this can cause the victim to have cardiac arrest;
  • Call emergency 911, or poison control 1-800-222-1222;
  • Open windows and doors or go to a ventilated area;
  • Keep or bring the victim to a ventilated area, if possible;
  • Try to identify the inhalant that was used, but do not go back if the area of use is not ventilated; Products that contain gases, solvents, aerosols or nitrites are possible sources of abuse;
  • After the episode, offer support and encourage the abuser to seek professional help.

Sangalli advises parents to talk to their children about inhalant abuse and explain to them that inhalants are poisons and toxins. “The best weapon we have against this abuse is parental involvement,” he said.

Poison information specialists at the Connecticut Poison Control Center and poison centers across the country answer emergency phone calls seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If you suspect a poisoning, don’t wait to see what happens. Call 1-800-222-1222. You will reach an expert at the poison center nearest your location nationwide.

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