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Messages From the Director

Inhalant Abuse is an Emerging Public Health Problem

NIDA Director Nora Volkow

October 2005

Our latest Monitoring the Future survey reports that we are making great strides in reducing illicit drug use in our Nation. Over the past 3 years there has been a 17% decline in the reported use of any illicit drug by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Unfortunately inhalant abuse has not shown the same trend, especially in the youngest students we survey, the 8th graders. Inhalants stand out in stark contrast to progress being made in reducing overall drug use by teens. Inhalants pose a a particularly significant problem since they are readily accessible, legal, and inexpensive. They also tend to be abused by younger teens and can be highly toxic and even lethal. NIDA's response to this emerging problem is to continue to support research for prevention and treatment of inhalant abuse, and to enhance public awareness through meetings, electronic technologies like the Internet, and through the development and dissemination of science-based materials on inhalant abuse.

Inhalants include a variety of products that produce breathable chemical vapors that can have mind-altering effects. Many of these products are commonly found in the home. People do not think that products such as spray paints, nail polish remover, hair spray, glues, and cleaning fluids present any risk of abuse, because their intoxicating effects are so totally unconnected to their intended uses. Yet, young children and adolescents do seek them out for that purpose. Adults should store household products carefully to prevent accidental inhalation by very young children; they should also remain aware of the temptations that these dangerous substances pose to children in their homes.

In addition to results from our Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, other National surveys, such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and, indicate that inhalant abuse is particularly prevalent among our nation's young people. This may be because some young people may abuse inhalants as a substitute for alcohol because they can be obtained easily and legally. Data suggest that inhalant abuse reaches its peak at some point during the seventh through ninth grades.

In 2002, the Nation's emergency departments reported almost 1,500 mentions of inhalant abuse by patients. Regular abuse of inhalants can cause serious damage to major organs, including the brain, liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs. However, even a single session of repeated inhalations can lead to cardiac arrest and death by altering normal heart rhythms or by preventing enough oxygen from entering the lungs, causing suffocation.

Awareness of inhalant abuse and its harmful effects is key if we are to deal effectively with this problem. At NIDA, we will continue our efforts to support new research on this topic and provide the public with the latest information about inhalant abuse. Please check our special web page for more information: inhalants.drugabuse.gov


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

This page was last updated October 2005

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