Sunday, March 15, 2009

National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week

When I was a kid I had those popular flavor-scented markers that I called “smelly markers” because when you wrote on something you smelled lemon, orange, cherry, grape, or my least favorite licorice, which is why I rarely used the black marker to make posters. While I was not the kid who stuck the markers up my nostrils to get a high off of the fumes, as I grew up, I was aware of the possibility. Nail polish bottles, carpet cleaners, and whipped cream canisters, along with the thousands of products like these lurking around your house that you normally would not think about intentionally inhaling, there are at least 1 million people per year that experiment with one form or another. Curiosity is the main reason cabinets under the sink and in kitchen drawers and cupboards that sparked the baby lock craze on all dangerous areas around the house. National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week (NIPAW) starts March 15, so keep your household chemical items—and your children—under watch.

NIPAW promotes the statistic that one in five students throughout the United States has used an inhalant by the time he or she enters eighth grade. Unassuming little products like my old “smelly markers” or white-out to fix an ink error are not items that usually trigger a red flag at the grocery checkout but can be harmful if used improperly, especially by children. Most parents don’t think about the danger behind the poisons in inhalants lying around the house until something bad happens.

When inhalants are abused it is called “huffing.” Huffing is described as the intentional inhalation of a substance that absorbs into your lungs, deprives the brain of much-needed cells and produces a euphoric feeling. Besides affecting the way your brain works, inhalant poison is as dangerous as any amount of hard drugs, it can kill you the first time you use or the second, third, or even the thirtieth, and is known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. Every time you inhale, you can die from lack of oxygen, cardiac arrest, or pneumonia among others. Among other risks are heart damage, kidney failure, liver damage and other organs along with the deterioration of bone marrow.

The signs of inhalant abuse are hard to tell, but significant use can cause abusers to look disoriented or intoxicated, slur their speech, have random paint stains on their clothes, hands, or face, have strong chemical odors, nausea or loss of appetite, a runny nose, and mouth or nose sores. If you suspect your child, friend, or loved one is abusing inhalants also look for hidden canisters, dirty rags, strange behavior and receipts for culprit items.

NIPAW is a community oriented program that uses education as a preventative tool. Started by the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, NIPAW has been helpful for increasing awareness of the dangers of abusing poisons. Since 1992 NIPAW has proven to be successful. Last year, over 2,000 organizations from 46 of the states were involved in the annual prevention week. Anti-drug campaigns, schools, police departments, volunteer groups, poison control centers, and local media outlets across America have been joining in the efforts.

From popular inhalants like paint or glue to unsuspecting newcomers like computer keyboard cleaner or rubber cement, be careful of poison abuse, especially in children and during the third week in March make sure parents, friends, and coworkers are aware of the dangers of inhalants as well. I am not sure if those “smelly markers” from my childhood still exist, but in the future, it might not be a good idea to market toxic chemicals to children that smell like food products.

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