Toxic Highs from Household Products

More attention is being paid in the media to the medicines and common household supplies that contain ingredients that middle level youngsters can abuse in the same fashion as other drugs. This spotlight seeks to raise awareness about the potentially fatal effects of dangerous chemicals in certain products we purchase. Also, more attention is being paid to over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs to which students may have access at home. Last week, as I was driving I listened to heartbreaking statistics cited in a public service announcement on the radio. An email was sent to me around the same time about a sad story of a police officer dad losing his fifteen-year-old son who died soon after abusing an inhalant in his home. The timing seemed ripe to raise awareness about the potential danger found in our own homes.

The reason for the focus on inhalants, according to a 2007 report written by the Virginia Department of Education, is that “reliable national surveys report that by eighth grade close to one out of five children has abused a common product that can be inhaled.” As parents we all worry about the commonly known and feared pantheon of drugs. It is no longer possible to worry about only the drugs that may cross our children’s paths outside of our homes, certain so-called “recreational” drugs like tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol. Then there are the other drugs considered so much more fatal that include the likes of heroin, LSD, cocaine, and Ecstasy. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, now we have to become more aware of the ingredient lists of our household cleansers and even food products that contain concentrated fumes or gases that can be breathed in to produce a high.

Why do middle level parents have to worry? The Virginia report explains. Inhalant abuse…

  • occurs most often between the ages of 11 and 15.
  • peaks around eighth and ninth grades.
  • remains the fourth most abused drug after tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.
  • is a major risk factor for the later development of other drug use.
  • can kill a child the first time or any time he or she uses.
  • can affect a child’s ability to learn.

In a study conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free American, only 5 percent of middle school parents believed their child had ever used an inhalant while 20 percent of the children surveyed admitted to using glue, gas or sprays to get high.

When individuals breathe in concentrated vapors, it is known as “huffing.” “Sniffing” occurs by breathing in through the nose. “Dusting” uses either nose or mouth on computer air duster cleaners.

Studies show that the most common products abused are glues, shoe polish, gasoline, lighter fluid, paints and inks, nail polish removers, aerosol sprays (such as spray paints, cooking sprays and body deodorants), whipped cream propellant, white-out, cleaning fluids, and electronics dusting sprays. What makes this activity so dangerous is how accessible and available these products are in most people’s homes. The same is true of the various over-the-counter cough and cold remedies found in our medicine cabinets as well as prescription drugs for colds and flu, pain, or stimulants such as medications for attention deficit disorder.

What can we do to prevent a child from serious danger? When our children were younger we made sure they could not open the cabinets under the sink or the closet where they could get their hands on cleansers and other poisonous products. Well, middle school children are also experiencing a similar growth spurt, undergoing the most tremendous changes in their growth and development since the time when they were those very same toddlers, and they too require protection. Although our middle level learners look like young adults they do not always have the best judgment or common sense and can be misguided by their curiosity. We have to get better at cleaning out the unnecessary toxic products in our houses and continue to place the ones we use out of reach or even lock them up. We have to supervise as much as possible and guide students toward healthy choices. We should buy alternative products such as roll-on deodorants.

Ultimately, we have to make the time to know and talk to our children. We have to communicate our love and set limits because they really do need the structure at this age. We must teach and model healthy living, and we have to speak to them directly about all the difficult “coming of age” topics, including this form of drug abuse. Kids learn about these risky behaviors, often receiving inaccurate or incomplete information, from their peers. Since kids at this age naturally feel indestructible and invincible, they do not believe that experimentation can really hurt them.

There may also be some students who, for whatever reason, are trying to self-medicate.

It should be disturbing to us that kids need or want to find ways to be unnaturally high. Since we cannot possibly spend every minute of the day with our children, it is so crucial to keep open the lines of communication and know where they are as well as with whom. It is also important for parents to continue to assess how kids are doing in general and to seek help and information from school or community professionals should they see changes in their child’s affect or performance or suspect any form of drug use. It is vital for us to remain informed, connected, and proactive.

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