Jul 8, 2013 3:06 PM by Kristi Tedesco
TUCSON - By the time kids hit the 8th grade, one in four have tried huffing: getting high by inhaling a household product.
Kristi Tedesco sat down with a former addict to better understand the addiction for this Kristi's Kids investigation.
The effects of huffing can be tragic. A young girl in California died earlier this year.
Inhalants are seemingly everywhere, even at school.
The recovering addict we spoke with did not want to be identified in this story, so we are calling her Diane.
"And so I tried it, and it was just like, it was funny. Like, me and my friends were laughing about it," Diane explains. "But it was like this kind of weird out-of-body experience that I never stopped chasing after that."
Diane wants everyone to know the dangers of huffing.
"You can hear, at least with me, it's almost felt like popping noises. You feel the instant reaction of what it's doing to your body."
Diane started huffing when she was 12.
"The available substances that I had were household products."
Canned air/duster products used to clean computer keyboards was the most common. Diane says stores which carry the products did not sell them to minors. She and friends stole them--from stores, at home, and from classrooms.
Like many addictions, huffing is progressive.
"It went from maybe like one, one and a half a day, to getting to like three or four cans."
But huffing can be deadly the first time. While the product is commonly referred to as canned air, it is actually compressed gas. All of the canisters have warning labels: "ABUSE BY INHALING CONTENTS MAY CAUSE INSTANT DEATH OR INJURY"
Manufacturers also add bitterants to discourage abuse, but Diane tells us that was never a deterrent.
In Southern California last March, Aria Doherty a 14-year-old honor student, died from huffing. Her parents believe it was the first time she tried it according to a report from KNBC.
Kristi's Kids got the numbers for Pima County from the Medical Examiner's Office.
Since 2008: 9 people have died from inhalants. At least 4 died specifically from using canned dusters. The Medical Examiner's Office tells us two more of the deaths may have been the result of using computer dusters, but the specific product was undetermined.
Diane used them until she was 15. She's been clean for 3 years now but has permanent damage to her nose and still has problems with short term memory. While still using, she eventually learned about the risks, but the addiction gripped her.
"I knew that it could kill you because I've had experiences where I would hit it, wake up and like, ‘what just happened?'"
There's a simple reason kids prefer canned dusters. There is no odor or mess like paints and glue. It's easy to hide. If a kid is found to have one, it rarely raises a red flag or the suspicion other inhalant products would. And again, canisters of computer duster are hiding in plain sight, so it's easy to get their hands on them.
Diane admits she huffed on her school bus and she and her friends even used them in class.
But now there is a new product that could put huffers in a pinch.
"This? This is just air. You can't get high off of this." John Scherer is President of Canless Air System. They are making the Hurricane O2 right here in Tucson.
The Hurricane has two fans which suck in room air and forces it out a nozzle. And it's rechargeable.
According to Scherer, one Hurricane could replace about a 1,000 cans of compressed dusters. That's good for the environment.
While there will always be products available which people will abuse, Diane hopes replacing the most accessible one to kids will make a difference.
"If you inhale it, it's air. So I think inhalant abuse will definitely, will go down a lot if these can hit the market really strong."