The most popular drug for 12-year-old kids is under the sink. U.S. health officials reported last week that the number of children who have inhaled potentially deadly vapors to get high is more than the numbers of those who have tried marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens combined. According to data from 2006-2008 surveys on drug use conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, among the middle school set, the only intoxicant used more than inhalants was alcohol.

What Is Huffing?

Huffing is the process of inhaling the fumes from common household products like gasoline, nail polish, bleach, paint solvents and cleaning spray. The amount of poison that enters the bloodstream can be significant and can cause cardiac arrest, brain, heart, liver and kidney damage. And like other drugs, inhalants can also be addictive. The trouble is that many kids won’t consider inhaling or huffing to be “taking drugs” because the substances are obtained legally in their own homes and are not specifically designated as “drugs.”

"It's frustrating because the danger comes from a variety of very common household products that are legal, they're easy to get, they're laying around the home and it's easy for kids to buy them," Pamela Hyde, of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said. "Kids and parents don't think of these things as dangerous because they were never meant to be used to be intoxicating."

The study reported the following results:

  • About 7 percent of 12-year-olds have used an inhalant to get high
  • About 5 percent of 12-year-olds have taken prescription drugs for nonmedical use
  • About 1.4 percent of 12-year-olds have used marijuana
  • Fewer than one percent have used cocaine or hallucinogens

While the rate of inhalant use in this age group has not risen in recent years, officials believe that kids do not understand the risks. Dr. Timothy Condon of the National Institute on Drug Abuse fears the trend.

"Unfortunately between the years 2001 and 2009, 8th graders' perception that inhalants are great risk decreased from about 75 percent to about 58 percent. We know, historically, that when the perception of risk declines we often almost always see an increase in use."

Is Your Child Huffing?

Some common symptoms after a child has been huffing or abusing inhalants include:

  • A dazed expression
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • General drunk-like behavior
  • Runny nose
  • Sores or rashes around the mouth and nos
  • Strong chemical odor on the breath
  • An inordinate number of empty cans around the house or in the trash

Inhaling can be deadly, but it's easy enough to know if your kids are huffing if you pay attention.

This topic is something that hasn't received a lot of attention in the past. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is reportedly launching a public service campaign in response to the information.