The Chicago personal injury attorneys at Passen & Powell are becoming increasingly concerned by the practice of huffing, and the apparent ignorance of this practice in the adult professionals charged with ensuring the safety of our children and teens. “Huffing,” or the use of inhalants to get high, is one of the most popular drugs for teen users, and one of the most widely abused. In fact, only the use of alcohol and marijuana exceed huffing in American teens. Huffing is also among the more dangerous forms of drug abuse. Huffing can and does cause permanent brain injury or death after only a single use.
Although there has not yet been a comprehensive study of the number of deaths from huffing, The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, a group dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of huffing, receives about 150 calls a year from parents whose children have died. In addition to these deaths, many teens who huff suffer lesser, but still serious, effects, including mild to severe brain injury.
Part of the danger of huffing is the ready availability of the inhalants – teens who might balk at the challenge or legal implications of obtaining marijuana or other illicit drugs do not have the same qualms about purchasing air freshener, spray paint, computer cleaner, shoe polish, gasoline, or propane. Some teens even attempt to huff the chemicals used to foam whipped cream by releasing the chemical from the can. Adding to the problem, teens who huff will usually not test positive on a drug test, as these tests only look for illegal substances, and cannot detect the misuse of legal substances.
This issue has been brought into focus in Chicago this week by the tragic death of Aaron Hunt, an area teenager. Aaron died after huffing propane. He was only 18, in his senior year at McHenry West High School. He is described as a charming young man who played football and video games and dreamed of being a mechanic like his father.
In spite of the prevalence and dangers of huffing, many parents are oblivious to the practice and the risk, and the warning signs that their children may be using inhalants. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition notes that parents who talk to their kids about risky behavior, including drug use, often fail to warn their children about huffing.
Unfortunately, this oblivion also extends to the professionals tasked with preventing and treating drug abuse in the teen population. Unless these professionals wake up to the dangers and signs of huffing, there will be more deaths and injuries. Aaron Hunt himself, who had been caught smoking marijuana, was enrolled in counseling and drug education classes at the time of his death. Yet these trained professionals failed to notice or respond to the classic warning signs of huffing. Only an investigation can reveal whether these professionals’ mistake amounts to negligence in Hunt’s case, and thus whether this is a case of wrongful death. But the failure to recognize warning signs in a child who was known to be at risk for drug abuse is shocking in the least.
Hunt’s parents reported that for several weeks before his death, they noticed several of these signs. The teen was rapidly losing a great deal of weight, and seemed listless when he was normally vibrant. Rapid weight loss and personality change are important warnings that should never be ignored. Other warning signs include deteriorating memory, chemical smells on a child’s breath and chemicals in a child’s room or belongings. It is tragic that the professionals tasked with ensuring Aaron’s safety ignored these signs.
Further, product manufacturers and distributors of products that are known to be misused in such a deadly way should include adequate warnings of such misuse.
In situations where professional ignorance amounts to negligence or product liability, an experienced Chicago wrongful death attorney can help the victim’s family members seek justice. Sadly, at times only a lawsuit against some of its members can force an industry as a whole to sit up and take notice, and make the changes required to prevent further death and injury.
With studies showing that 8% of eighth graders and 6% of high school sophomores report having huffed in the past year, parents and professionals simply cannot afford to continue in their ignorance. The personal injury lawyers at Passen & Powell urge counselors and educators of teens, particularly drug counselors, to wake up to the dangers and warning signs of huffing before further damage is done. As Hunt’s father said, “People don’t need to die this way.”
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.