NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Inhalants
Letter from the Director

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Friends, Colleagues, and Parents:

Even when using aerosols or volatile products for their legitimate purposes, such as painting or cleaning, it is wise to do so in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.

One of the most dangerous substances abused by children and teens may be found in the home. These toxic substances are collectively referred to as inhalants - breathable chemical vapors that produce mind-altering effects. A variety of common products contain substances that can be inhaled. Many people do not think that products such as spray paints, nail polish remover, hair spray, glues, and cleaning fluids present any risk of abuse, because their intoxicating effects are so totally unconnected to their intended uses. Yet, young children and adolescents are among those most likely to abuse them, and do seek them out for this purpose. Adults should store household products carefully to prevent accidental inhalation; they should also remain aware of the temptations that these dangerous substances pose to children in their homes.

National surveys, such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Monitoring the Future (MTF), indicate that inhalant abuse is particularly prevalent among our Nation's young people. Some young people may abuse inhalants as a substitute for alcohol because they can be obtained easily. Data suggest that inhalant abuse reaches its peak at some point during the seventh through ninth grades. According to MTF, eighth-graders regularly report the highest rates of abuse. In fact, MTF data for 2004 showed a significant increase in lifetime inhalant use among eighth-graders.

In 2002, the Nation's emergency departments reported almost 1,500 mentions of inhalant abuse by patients. Regular abuse of inhalants can cause serious damage to major organs, including the brain, liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs. However, even a single session of repeated inhalations can lead to cardiac arrest and death by altering normal heart rhythms or by preventing enough oxygen from entering the lungs, causing suffocation.

The chances of suffocation are greatly increased by inhaling chemicals from a paper or plastic bag or in an enclosed area.

This Community Drug Alert Bulletin provides a synopsis of some of the latest scientific findings on inhalants and inhalant abuse. We hope that this information will help alert readers to inhalant abuse and its harmful effects and aid your community's efforts to deal effectively with this problem.

Thank you for taking the time to become better informed about this public health problem.


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.