October 9, 2008

Law Enforcement Warning Public of Dangers of Inhalants

Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and computer cleaner? While the compressed can of air used for dusting electronic equipment might seem out of place in that list, Memphis Police Chief John Myers warned the Memphis City Council that the latter is right at home in the inventory of drugs being abused by today’s youth.

When questioned regarding any perceived increase or decrease in drug issues within the city, Myers made the aldermen aware of the latest trend, which he and his officers are being forced to address.

“It is one of those things we feel is likely going on, but at the same time is very difficult to address from a law enforcement stand point,” Myers said. “I plan to discuss the issue during the school’s Red Ribbon Week and other drug prevention presentations, but most importantly I feel we need to let parents know this can be an issue.”

Proving his point, Myers heard comments of disbelief from the council members, a majority of which have children of school age.

“Although many parents are appropriately concerned about illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and LSD, they often ignore the dangers posed to their children from common household products that contain volatile solvents or aerosols,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. “Many young people inhale the vapors from these sources in search of quick intoxication without being aware of the serious health consequences that can result.”

According to the (NIDA) national surveys indicate that more than 22.9 million Americans have abused inhalants at least once in their lives. NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study reveals that 17.3 percent of eighth-graders have abused inhalants.

“Parents and children need to know that experimentation with these substances should not be taken lightly,” said Volkow. “Even a single session of repeated inhalant abuse can disrupt heart rhythms and cause death from cardiac arrest or lower oxygen levels enough to cause suffocation. Regular abuse of these substances can result in serious harm to vital organs including the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver.”

According to inhalant.org, there are more than a 1,400 products which are potentially dangerous when inhaled. Most are common products that can be found in the home, garage, office, school or as close as the local convenience store, lending to their popularity while also serving to mask their abuse.

The city council questioned if the police department could work with local merchants to monitor the sale of the more frequently abused inhalants in an effort to make the community aware of the issue. Myers noted there was no legal method to require merchants to monitor or prohibit sales of these items, but added that he would make an effort to educate the community regarding the issue.

“We are limited on how we can approach this from a law enforcement standpoint, but hopefully we can make parents aware of the possible problem,” Myers said.

According to the NIDA early identification and intervention are the best ways to stop inhalant abuse before it causes serious health consequences. Parents, educators, family physicians, and other health care practitioners should be alert to the following signs of a serious inhalant abuse problem:

Chemical odors on breath or clothing

Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes

Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing

Drunk or disoriented appearance

Slurred speech

Nausea or loss of appetite

Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.

“More and more stories are popping up in the news about people dying from this stuff,” Myers said. “We don’t want that happening here.”

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