Scope Of The Problem

Inhalant abuse came to public attention in the 1950s when the news media reported that young people who were seeking a cheap "high" were sniffing glue. The term glue sniffing is still widely used, often to include inhalation of a broad range of common products besides glue.

With so many substances lumped together as inhalants, research data describing frequency and trends of inhalant abuse are uneven and sometimes contradictory. However, evidence indicates that in halant abuse is far more common among all socioeconomic levels of U.S. youth than is typically recognized by parents and the public. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA's) Monitoring the Future survey shows that in 1997, 21.0 percent of 8th graders had used an inhalant in his or her lifetime.

Inhalants were used by equally high percentages of 10th and 12th graders, according to the NIDA survey. Lifetime inhalant use among 12th graders, which had increased steadily for most of the 1980s, leveled off somewhat at 16.1 percent in 1997; 10th graders also reported a lifetime inhalant use of 18.3 percent.

Inhalants are most commonly used by adolescents in their early teens, with usage dropping off as students grow older, unlike the case for other drugs. For example, while 5.6 percent of 8th graders reported using inhalants within the past 30 days, known as "current" use, only 2.5 percent of seniors reported current use of inhalants.

One major roadblock to recognizing the size of the inhalant problem is the ready availability of products that are inhaled. Inhalants are cheap, or even free, and can be purchased legally in retail stores in a variety of seemingly harmless products. As a result, adolescents who sniff inhalants to get high do not face the drug procurement obstacles that confront abusers of other drugs. Youthful inhalant abusers can easily buy airplane glue, hair spray, spray paint, cigarette lighter fluid, nail polish remover, or typing correction fluid.

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