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Child Solvent Abuse Is Often Overlooked

Economic hard times see a rise in inhalent abuse, which causes long-term damage and sudden deaths.

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By Chrisanne Grise

08/03/12

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Solvent abuse as a worldwide epidemic may have slipped largely under the radar. While practices like "glue-sniffing" or "huffing" are often overshadowed by other drug stories, they're a widespread method of getting high—particularly in economically depressed areas of the world. Millions inhale volatile chemical solvents such as those found in paint thinner, tire glue, nail polish, hairspray and Wite-Out. In small doses, these solvents create a euphoric high; in higher concentrations, they can cause hallucinations, slurred speech, unconsciousness and even death. Solvents appeal to a very specific audience; male users outnumber females five to one, and some estimates say that 15% of the world's teenage boys have experimented with solvents. In Ireland, as many as 22% of 15 to 16-year-olds are solvent abusers, and in the UK, butane—the country’s most commonly misused solvent—caused 52% of solvent-related deaths in 2000. The ready availability of solvents endears them to kids—children in many areas of the developing world can buy a small tube of inner tube repair glue for the equivalent of 10 cents. But children's bodies and brains are particularly susceptible to long-term damage. As if that weren’t bad enough, a large number of first-time users end up dying—in 2006, 40% of solvent abuse deaths were attributed to first-time experimentation. Despite the relatively low profile of glue-sniffing in the US, 2.1 million Americans aged 12 or older abused inhalants in 2009, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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