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Abuse of Legal Substances
By Dr. Virginia Yates
Martin Army Community Hospital, Fort Benning, Ga.

Recently a lot of public attention has been brought to the abuse of common household chemicals as inhalants. This abuse has been especially popular among children and adolescents.

Items of abuse include spray cans of paint, hair spray, furniture polish and insecticides. In fact, someone abuses the propellant gas in almost every kind of spray can.

The small cylinders of nitrous oxide called "whippits," for whipped cream, are among the propellants inhaled. Non-spray items such as gasoline, butane for lighters, adhesives and degreasers are also inhaled.

The danger in most of these inhalants is that they create a low-oxygen environment in the brain, sometimes resulting in loss of consciousness or brain damage. These chemicals can also collect in poisonous amounts in the brain, liver, kidneys and heart.

An estimated 500 people a year die suddenly from the abnormalities caused in the heart alone.

The accessibility of such legal and over-the-counter items to children and teens has led to a growing surge of substance abuse for recreation.

Many consider herbal remedies harmless, yet chemicals such as ephedra and guarana are being purchased and consumed in large volumes for a high. Unfortunately, these items can raise blood pressure and heart rates to dangerously high levels.

The prescription medication Ritalin, intended for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, has gained popularity as a street drug for recreational use. A recent teen drug-abuse survey found that by 8th grade, 50 percent of children have used alcohol, 14 percent have used marijuana, and 13 percent have used inhalants. A separate study found that one in five adolescents has used inhalants by the 8th grade.

Parents are often concerned, but uncertain about how to approach the problem of substance abuse. The advice promoted by most respected drug-abuse counselors and several child psychologists is that parents should bring up the topic in an educational fashion as often as possible. This is also the method promoted by the group Drug Free America.

Techniques suggested are stressing to children the benefits of good health and the disadvantages of substance abuse, beginning at a very young age. red ribbon icon

(Reprinted from the Fort Benning, Ga., Bayonet)

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