WASHINGTON — Fewer teens are sniffing glue, lighter fluid, spray paint, shoe polish and other easy-to-find substances, a government study said Monday.
But the study said the number of adolescents who actually abuse inhalants — as opposed to just trying them — remained stable between 2002 and 2007, suggesting the need for continued prevention and treatment efforts.
"Most parents don't realize how dangerous inhalants can be," said Ed Jurith, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "These products — found in every home in America — are among the most popular and deadly substances that kids abuse."
Almost 1 million youths aged 12 to 17 used some kind of inhalant in 2007, according to the study by the Department of Health and Human Services.
That represents 3.9 percent of adolescents, compared with about 1.1 million — or 4.4 percent — in 2006.
The rate of "initiation," or teens trying inhalants for the first time, was also slightly lower in 2007 — 2.1 percent of teens, down from 2.4 percent in 2006.
Experts have attributed the drop to ongoing efforts to educate teens about the dangers of inhalant use and encourage parents to discuss the issue with their children.
But the rate of dependence and abuse was relatively stable from 2002 to 2007, with 0.4 percent of teens, or around 99,000 people, meeting the criteria for dependence or abuse.
Also, the study said that inhalants remain the third most-popular choice for teens trying drugs for the first time. In 2007 marijuana was the choice of 56.3 percent of first-time drug users; prescription drugs used recreationally were second at 23.5 percent; and inhalants were tried by 17.2 percent of first-time users.
The popularity of inhalants and marijuana dropped slightly for first-time users from 2006 to 2007 while prescription drugs grew slightly more prevalent as a first-time choice.
The findings were released at the kickoff of the 17th annual National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition scheduled a press conference to highlight the dangers of inhalants and urge steps to reduce their abuse, including designing air conditioners to restrict access to the refrigerant.
Attention from the 2007 death of a 19-year-old girl who sniffed air conditioner refrigerant helped produce a new model code for building air conditioner units that the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition wants states to adopt.
"While we cannot lock up common household products, we can put access to air conditioner refrigerants under lock and key to remove temptation," said Harvey Weiss, executive director of the coalition.
With a couple of exceptions, the specific types of inhalants teens turned to didn't change much in 2007 from years past. The most popular were gasoline, lighter fluid, glue and shoe polish, followed by spray paints and other aerosol sprays, and then correction and cleaning fluids and degreasers, and so-called "poppers," or nitrate inhalants.