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November 23, 2009

Huffing and Public Policy

Last week The Today Show aired an excellent segment on Inhalant abuse entitled Huffing is Deadly Trend .  The story has prompted several queries about what changes in public policy I would favor to combat the miss use or abuse of Inhalants.

In most cases I am not a fan of criminal justice solutions to inhalant abuse.  All of the products that have a potential for abuse are incredibly useful to society when used in the manner they were intended for and we must never lose sight of that fact.  We will never legislate our way out of this issue, but having said that many States (Indiana where we live being one) have added "driving under the influence of inhalants" to their driving while intoxicated laws.  I do agree with this change in the criminal justice statutes for the simple reason that huffing and driving becomes a public safety issue.

As the video on The Today Show indicates a number of Big Box retailers (like Walmart) have voluntarily decided to limit access to certain products (Computer Duster and Spray Paint) to individuals 18 and older.  This is accomplished by coding the products so that when they are scanned at check out the individual is asked to present proof of age.  This is a good step but in most cases has been prompted by lawsuits against companies from families who have lost a child to Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.  

 I AM in favor of greater education in the schools and at the community level.  A a number of states and communities, primarily in New England have mandated inhalant awareness education in the public schools at the middle school level and hold annual community meetings or conferences on Inhalant Abuse.  I do about 40 presentations a year to middle and high school students on the subject and when I ask for a show of hands of many know what huffing is and know someone who has huffed 50 - 60% of the kids put their hands up.  When I ask their parents the same question the response is between 3 - 5% so there is a significant disconnect.

If you want to get an interesting perspective on the depth and breath of the problematic aspects of this issue check out this Blog http://inhalant-info.blogspot.com/ sponsored by the Alliance of Consumer Education which is an arm of the association of manufacturers of aerosol products.  It is a daily compilation of  incidents of inhalant abuse.  Kids are not the only abusers anymore.  More young and older adults are using them. 

And there is also a "War on Terror" connection that is beginning to emerge.  Among items of standard issue to front line troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is Computer Duster which is used to clean weapons, electronics and optical gear essential to the conduct of the war.  Given that both countries are Muslim and alcohol and drugs are not as available to troops as they were in Vietnam soldiers are using huffing to deal with stress and boredom and are returning to home and continuing the use to manage PTSD.

Historically trends of inhalant abuse have ebbed and flowed and unfortunately we appear to be at the beginning of an upward surge.  As I said at the beginning we will not legislate our way out or around this issue and would welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

November 23, 2009 at 10:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack