Like tourists huffing and puffing to reach the peak we forget the view on the way up - Friedrich Nietzsche


image by: Breakout Drug Education

If you were walking along the streets of a town in Morocco and came across a small empty tube of bicycle repair glue, chances are good that the cement wasn’t used to repair a tire. More likely is that an adolescent, around 13 – 15 years old, used the glue to get high. And in economically depressed cities around the world, he is just one of hundreds of thousands of children doing the same.

Solvent abuse (or what is often called "huffing" or “glue sniffing”) refers to the inhalation of any volatile chemical solvent, including those found in paint thinner, tire glue, nail polish, hairspray and even White Out. In low doses, the solvents cause euphoria akin to temporary drunkenness; in higher concentrations they induce hallucinations, slurred speech, confusion and unconsciousness.

What makes solvent abuse a global childhood drug epidemic is that it disproportionately affects adolescents, especially males, in depressed regions of the world. The male to female ratio of users is 5:1, and the typical age of users is between 13 and 15. Some estimates indicate that 15% of male adolescents have experimented with solvents—an enormous number of children worldwide. In Ireland alone, as many as 22 % of 15-16 year olds are solvent abusers. In the UK, butane is the most commonly misused volatile solvent, causing 52% of solvent-related deaths in 2000.

Another factor making this a decidedly childhood drug problem is that the volatile chemicals in the most commonly inhaled products are attracted to fatty tissue in the body and brain, making children--who have relatively large amounts of fatty tissue throughout their bodies--particularly susceptible to long-term damage from the chemicals.

Central to what makes the abuse so widespread is the availability and variety of inhalants. For the equivalent of ten cents, a child in Morocco can buy a small tube of inner tube repair glue and get a temporary pass out of his depressed world. Same goes for a child in New Delhi, Kenya, Rio de Janeiro or Belfast. Whether it’s model airplane glue or paint thinner or any of the hundreds of other products available in stores around the world, the possibilities for getting high are virtually endless.

Children have devised a range of ways to put these products to use. Among them—and easily the most dangerous—is placing the solvent in a plastic bag and then putting the bag over the child’s head for maximum inhalation. If the solvent concentration is high enough, the child may pass out with the bag over his head and die in minutes.

Sudden death can also occur from ventricular fibrillation—a severally abnormal heart rhythm induced when the cardiac muscles quiver instead of contracting normally. Other causes of death have occurred through inhalation of vomit, multiple injuries sustained in accidents while intoxicated and by the toxic effects of the substances themselves.

Those who die most frequently from solvent abuse are first time users. In 2006, 40% of solvent abuse deaths were attributed to first-time experimentation.

The reason it seems few are talking about solvent abuse these days is that it has been overshadowed by other drug addictions plaguing the world’s kids, like meth and crack. That’s understandable, but the reality is that solvent abuse remains one of the most prevalent and dangerous childhood drug addictions around the world, and since the rate of abuse follows closely the rate of economic decline, the problem is only getting worse, including in the US. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2.1 million Americans age 12 and older had abused inhalants.

Source: David DiSalvo, The Childhood Drug Abuse Epidemic No One is Talking About, Forbes, August 2, 2012.

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Last Updated : Thursday, October 17, 2019