March 16 (HealthDay News) -- More than 17 percent of American adolescents who use drugs started by sniffing common household products such as glue, shoe polish and air fresheners to get high, according to a U.S. government report released Monday.
Other inhalants used by youths 12 to 17 years old include refrigerant from air conditioners, aerosol computer cleaners, hair sprays, nail polish, paint solvents, degreasers, gasoline and lighter fluids, according to the study, which looked at data from six years of National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.
The use of these products to get high can cause immediate death from cardiac arrest, called sudden sniffing death, or lead to addiction and other health risks, said the authors of the report, Trends in Adolescent Inhalant Use: 2002-2007. It was released at the kickoff for the 17th annual National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week.
Marijuana, nonmedical use of prescription drugs and inhalants are the top three choices among teens when they start using drugs, the study found. But the report offered mixed news about inhalant use. For example, the number of 12- to 17-year-olds who said they'd used inhalants in the past year fell from 4.4 percent in 2002 to 3.9 percent in 2007, but there was no decline in dependence on or abuse of inhalants.
The data also show that the belief that it's harmful to try inhalants once or twice is at its lowest point among eighth-graders since the survey first included them in 1991. Though inhalant use was decreasing through 2007, National Institute on Drug Abuse data show an increase of 0.6 percent in annual use by eighth-graders.
"Among youth, perception is reality. When they believe that inhalant use is neither risky nor unacceptable, use of inhalants increases," Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, said in a news release from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which sponsored the study. "If parents do not perceive the dangers and their children dismiss them, there will be more tragedy and more youngsters who die from sudden sniffing death or become addicted to inhalants."
Ed Jurith, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in the news release that "most parents don't realize how dangerous inhalants can be."
"These products -- found in every home in America -- are among the most popular and deadly substances that kids abuse," he said. "Parents have a responsibility to be careful about how they store these common household products and to take the time to talk to their teens about the serious dangers associated with inhalant abuse."
Dr. Timothy Condon, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said that "every new generation of children needs to be educated on the dangers of inhalant abuse" and added that the public and private sectors must "work together to reach as many teens and their parents as possible with the message that these easy-to-get chemicals can kill."
In an effort to prevent unauthorized access to air-conditioner refrigerants, the International Code Council now recommends locking caps on outside refrigerant access points. A group called United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerant plans to lobby states to adopt the code and is urging the council to endorse retrofitting of old air-conditioning systems.
"While we cannot lock up common household products, we can put access to air-conditioner refrigerants under lock and key to remove temptation from unsuspecting young people," Weiss said.
SOURCE: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, news release, March 16, 2009