Written by Thery McKinney
Edited by A. Noelle
Thousands of commercially produced products are a daily experiment for children wanting to get high.
It’s frightening to realize that children nowadays are searching for more powerful highs, for more mind- altering experiences with total disregard for their health. The consequences of substance abuse are brain, heart, kidney, and liver damage; certain cancers; sudden death and suicide.
From the day that our children are born, parents fear for their safety, both physically and emotionally. For a toddler’s protection, we child-proof our homes; we hide and lock away cleaning products, medicines, and alcoholic beverages. We are constantly on the lookout for signs of suspicious behavior in their friends and associates. We warn them not to talk to strangers. Yet how do we face the fact that our children are purposely abusing themselves with dangerous substances right under our noses?
Substance abuse is not limited to curious teenagers and young adults; children in elementary school are admitting to this behavior. They can drink, snort, inhale, and swallow their way to getting high with the product of their choice. We are not talking about illegal drugs like cocaine, or prescription and over-the-counter drugs. What we have here are substances that are inexpensive, totally legal, and readily available, merchandise that is found in local neighborhood stores.
The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that 12 year olds are more likely to experience intoxication from common and legal household products than from using cigarettes or marijuana. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) reports that 1 in 5 students have used an inhalant to get high by the time he or she reaches eighth grade; and the numbers are steadily increasing.
Substance abuse is not a new phenomenon. In the 1960’s, smoking nutmeg was prevalent. Nutmeg is now categorized as a psychoactive drug by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Sniffing or huffing, is particularly popular with younger teens. Older teenagers pursue the alcohol route to intoxication. They try drinking unlikely substances such as mouthwash (Listerine) and cough medicines (Robitussin). The latest craze is drinking hand sanitizers! This household resource designed to shield us from germs has become an alcoholic cocktail. Some hand sanitizers, like Purell, contain as much as 60% ethanol. When distilled and ingested it produces effects equal to several shots of high quality booze. Children are finding recipes online with instructions for distilling the hand sanitizers using salt. They make it more palatable by adding other liquid ingredients and flavoring.
Children have found ways of breathing in nitrous oxide out of ordinary cans of whipped cream. Teens have discovered the “killer highs” of “dusting” – inhaling computer cleaners that contain Freon, a substance that causes the lungs to freeze, resulting in death. Certain air freshener plug-ins conveniently fit into asthma inhalers – Oust and other air fresheners contain propylene glycol, also known as antifreeze.
Why do children abuse substances? Perhaps peer pressures, perhaps boredom. Some say just for the thrill of living dangerously. But whatever the reasons are for this behavior, it must be stopped.
Federal and state lawmakers and product manufacturers are taking steps to control dangerous chemicals found in merchandise. Companies have changed their formulas to eliminate toxic ingredients. Warnings are placed on packaging to educate users of potential harm. Louisiana, one of 33 states, has made selling certain products illegal. The penalty for the sale of a type of synthetic drug called “bath salts” is 30 years jail time, the same as for selling heroin. The banned bath salts have been compared to methamphetamine (meth), which produces hallucinations, because of their addictive characteristics. Users can end up in psychiatric hospital units and may resort to violent suicides.
Parents can join forces with community and government agencies. There are dozens of online sources that offer Q&A, advice, and information about specific dangerous substances – how to recognize them and what to do. Inhalant.org has a message board where ideas and experiences are shared. Findtreatment.samhsa.gov can help find a local source for assistance.
In an emergency, parents can contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for immediate help. Directly calling the 1-800 number printed on the product label is another option.
However, prevention is always the best solution. A parent needs to approach their child and discuss the subject of substance abuse:
- Stay informed. Parents cannot warn their children if they don’t know the facts.
- Talk, don’t preach, to your child. They need to know that support, not punishment, is what you are offering. Let them know that they can help their friends by referring them to the Girls & Boys Hotline at 1-800-448-3000.
- Be aware of your household products. Go green, and change to non-toxic materials. There are many websites that show how to make safe cleansers. Teach by example.
- With younger children (6 to 11 years old), you can play a game called Safe to Smell & Touch – use pictures and labels to help identify products.
- Ask gentle questions. Be truthful. Parents and children must trust each other.
- For teens (12 to 18 years old), talk about peer pressures and social obligations.
- These and other suggestions can be found at www.inhalants.org.
- Both parents and children must recognize the dangers of substance abuse and take action to safeguard everyone’s futures. Better safe than sorry.
Websites to visit: