WASHINGTON – The first thing she noticed were her son's feet. They were blue.
On a Saturday in June 2001,Marissa Manlove's son,David,was mowing the lawn in the morning and pronounced dead in the afternoon. The coroner said the cause of death was “accidental” drowning,but his parents know that was not the complete truth.
“This is something we could have easily walked away from,” said Kim Manlove,father of the high school sophomore,at a news conference Thursday. “But this story is not about failure – it's the story of a deadly addiction.”
Because deaths related to inhalant use are often attributed to something else,the Manloves joined several anti-drug groups to introduce guidelines to help medical examiners and other investigators better detect when inhalants cause a death
Intentionally inhaling the more than 1,000 everyday household,school and office products – from correction fluid to spray paint aerosols to whipped cream dispensers – is known as inhalant abuse,when substances are used to achieve a mind-altering effect,according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
But “inhalant abuse is the most hidden of all drug problems,” and 95 percent of those dependent on inhalants don't receive needed treatment,said Jane Maxwell,a research professor at the University of Texas.
“Inhalants are like Russian roulette,” Kim Manlove said. “They can kill the first time,the 20th time or the 100th time.”
Inhalants are a problem among adolescents because they are widely available,cheap and legal,said Nora Volkow,director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She said they also are highly addictive and toxic.
More than 22.8 million people have used inhalants,2.6 million of them ages 12 to 17,according to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A report by the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition says some studies show that inhalant abuse affects more people than tobacco or alcohol.
According to the federally funded Monitoring the Future report,inhalant use ranked third among high school sophomores using illegal drugs in 2002,after marijuana and amphetamines.
While most adolescents outgrow inhalant use,some move on to harder drugs. The most common way to abuse inhalants is sniffing through the nose or inhaling fumes through the mouth,which is calling “huffing,” according to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.
Volkow said prevention works in lessening the abuse of inhalants,and campaigns are needed to make adolescents aware of the risks.
“The body has a lot of lipids,and inhalants go to those places that have the highest concentration of lipids,” Volkow said. “Unfortunately,the brain has the highest concentration,and so the substances go there.”
An exact number is not available for inhalant fatalities because “they may be unrecognized,undetected or because of a perceived stigma,go unreported,” said Harvey Weiss,executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.
To address the problem of unreported and undetected inhalant deaths,Weiss said his organization,with support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,created the investigation guidelines.
The guidelines include a history of inhalants,death scene investigation approaches,chemical components of popular inhalants and other information to help determine whether an inhalant death has occurred.
On that June Saturday,David and a friend bought a can of computer duster and were huffing while standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool,his mother said. To “intensify his high,” David started diving while huffing,but after the second or third dive,he didn't come back up,she said.
“The chemicals put him into cardiac arrest and paralyzed his lungs,” his mother said. “I was greeted by a sight that is a parent's worst nightmare.”
Stephen Pasierb,president and CEO of Partnership for a Drug-Free America,said data shows both parents and adolescents lack knowledge of the dangers caused by inhalants.
“You don't want to say,‘Don't do this,don't do this,' because every time you do that,you guide someone toward it,” Pasierb said of raising awareness about inhalants. “We need a different approach for this new generation of kids.”
Additional information about inhalants and inhalant abuse can be found at www.inhalants.org.