Recent arrests across the nation, including several in North Texas, have cast light on the alarming practice of inhalant abuse, commonly called “huffing.”
The relatively new phenomenon involves the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors to attain a mental “high” or euphoric effect. Serious consequences for abusers can include permanent damage to the brain and other organs, or even death.
In Highland Village, police have responded to several motor vehicle accidents in which drivers are suspected of “huffing” common computer air duster sprays. Offenders in these cases are being charged with Possession and Use of a Volatile Chemical and Driving While Intoxicated (due to inhalant intoxication). Penalties include up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $4,000.
Another chemical often associated with this dangerous practice is Freon, which can be released relatively easily from an outdoor air conditioning unit and snorted, or huffed. As with other harmful gases, the action induces oxygen deprivation, leaving the person feeling lightheaded and dizzy. Huffing too much refrigerant can deprive the person of oxygen for too long, potentially resulting in death.
In an effort to thwart attempts to inhale Freon from HVAC units, Advent Air Conditioning of Lewisville recently announced that it will now include locking refrigerant caps on all new construction and replacement HVAC work, effective immediately. Advent’s move covers both residential and commercial applications. The locking caps had been offered as optional equipment since 2011.
“While tamper-resistant caps also help prevent people from stealing refrigerants for re-sale, we decided to include the equipment on every unit we install and service to deter teenagers from this deadly activity,” said Mike Douglas, CEO of Advent Air Conditioning. “Too many kids are learning about huffing from social media and the Internet, and putting themselves in extreme danger.”
Though Highland Village police have not yet encountered cases of refrigerant huffing, they are treating all such cases seriously.
“We’ve had three auto accidents recently in our town traced to huffing, and we are prosecuting these cases to the full extent of the law,” said Alicia Bautista, a detective with the Highland Village Police Department. “People need to be aware of how dangerous huffing can be.”
HVPD is seeking felony charges of Intoxication Assault in the most recent huffing case on April 7, 2012, due to the defendant causing serious bodily injury to another person while operating his vehicle. In this case the defendant faces 2-20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000.
Huffing is becoming increasingly popular among children, especially 12- to 14-year-olds.
According to United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerant (UPROAR), an analysis of 144 Texas death certificates by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse involving misuse of inhalants found that the most frequently mentioned inhalant (35%) was Freon (51 deaths).
Advent Air is also disseminating information to its commercial and residential customers about the deadly trend, and urging them to alert their fellow businesses and neighbors to the danger.
“Huffing is growing at an alarming rate, and it’s simply tragic,” said Douglas. “We are determined to do our part to make it as difficult as possible for kids to get access to these dangerous chemicals, which can be found in virtually any home in our area.”