Side effect of inhaling 'canned air': Death

It’s called ‘canned air,’ but when inhaled, the compressed gasses used to clean electronic equipment actually deprive the brain of oxygen – and the results are sometimes fatal. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

It’s called ‘canned air,’ but when inhaled, the compressed gasses used to clean electronic equipment actually deprive the brain of oxygen – and the results are sometimes fatal. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - Recently, the mother of a 14-year-old girl asked employees of a Kingman business if they had seen her daughter, who walked away from her shortly after the pair entered the store earlier this month.

Employees who were present said they had not seen the girl and so the woman went to a neighboring business to look for the teenager.

Meanwhile, the manager of the first business checked the restroom after a customer complained that someone had been in there for an unusual length of time.

The door was locked.

Nobody answered her repeated knocks.

The manager unlocked the door with her key and found the 14-year-old girl sitting on the floor with her back to the wall, next to a toilet.

She appeared to be in a daze.

On the floor beside her were half a dozen empty cans of computer "duster," which is essentially pressurized gases designed to clean sensitive electronic and computer equipment.

The girl eventually regained her senses and left with her mother, who admonished the manager and employees for not keeping a better eye on the teenager.

Fortunately, scenes like the one described above rarely play out in Kingman, but they do, although not as often as other places - at least in public.

The Kingman Police Department did not take one person into custody in 2013 for abusing inhalants, according to department spokeswoman Jennifer Sochocki, and only one person was arrested in each of the two previous years.

There have been three such arrests over 45 days this spring, but those getting arrested were a far cry from the usual suspects in other jurisdictions, where juveniles are the primary abusers.

A 52-year-old man was arrested for driving under the influence of canned air in March and two homeless people, a 37-year-old man and 32-year-old woman, were arrested at Centennial Park earlier this month after witnesses watched them huff several cans of computer duster.

According to www.medicinenet.com, huffing "is the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors to attain a mental 'high' or euphoric effect."

Abusers say inhalants produce an effect similar to alcohol intoxication, lightheadedness and loss of inhibition. The sensation is short-lived, but the long-term health effects - on the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and liver - can be severe.

Kingman Police Sgt. Lyman Watson, leader of the department's school resource officer program, points out a major downside for people who huff.

Russian Roulette

Unlike that first shot of booze, heroin, cocaine or even methamphetamine, huffing canned air can stop a heart the very first time it is used, said Watson.

Death can result even when the heart belongs to a healthy teenager. Sudden deaths from cardiac arrhythmias have been reported, according to medicinenet.com, both in first-time and longtime users.

There's more than one way to die huffing canned air or any other inhalant. Users have been known to asphyxiate, aspirate and suffocate. Just how many of them have died is impossible to determine since most causes of death are attributed to heart attack, stroke or one of the three causes listed above rather than inhalant overdose or poisoning, according to the website.

Young Abusers

The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that the majority of abusers, 68 percent, are younger than 18. Perhaps they are much younger. In 2011, 7 percent of seventh graders reported using inhalants while only 3.2 of high school seniors reported doing so.

The percentage could be much higher. While huffing is a crime - defined by Arizona law as the use of a vapor releasing substance - inhalants can include duster, gasoline, solvents, aerosols and any number of everyday items capable of generating a "high."

They are all legal to possess and easy to obtain.

What evidence?

"Duster's a common household item," Watson said. "It isn't illegal to have. It gives off no odor, like spray paint does.

"If you go into your kid's room and smell the odor of marijuana, you can make an immediate decision as to what's going on. If all you see is a can of Dust Off next to all of his electronics, how do you know?"

Watson said he conducts in-depth interviews with students arrested at school for drugs. He said these students are surprisingly candid and one in five admit to having used inhalants before they made it to eighth grade.

He theorizes there are a number of reasons why younger juveniles are attracted to the duster, with its ready availability at the top of the list.

He also believes the percentage of juvenile abusers might be higher in Kingman because he doesn't specifically ask them about inhalant abuse.

Be aware

"Our biggies are marijuana and prescription pills," said Watson. "That's what we see. Rarely, we see methamphetamine, so when I say one in five tell me they've done inhalants, understand that they volunteer that information."

For Watson, the issue is somewhat personal. A Cleveland police officer, a man who, like Watson, worked with adolescents, came home one day to find his teenage son dead, a can of duster on the floor next to his body.

"I want to make businesses aware," Watson said. "I want to make parents aware."