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Abuse of inhalants by middle school children has increased by up to 44 percent over a two-year period, according to a new data analysis conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
The data is taken from the Partnership's most recent national survey on drug use, and shows that over the past two years, inhalant abuse increased by 18 percent (from 22 to 26 percent) among 8th graders and by 44 percent (from 18 to 26 percent) among 6th graders.
Inhalant abuse is commonly known as "huffing" and as CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, it can have tragic consequences:
Toy Slayton's teenage son, Johnson Bryant, had a bright future.
He got good grades at an exclusive private school and by sophomore year had made the varsity football team. He looked as healthy and normal and beautiful as any mother would want her son to be.
"Kids make bad choices. And this one cost him his life," Slayton said.
That "bad choice" is one that's been made by 2.6 million teenagers. It's known as huffing - inhaling fumes from common household products to get a quick intense high. In 17-year-old Johnson Bryant's case, huffing the fumes from two cans of butane caused heart failure.
"How would I know to look at a can of butane with fear?" asked his mother.
James Ward is in his ninth month of drug rehabilitation. He began huffing at 14. Inhalants don't show up in a drug test, so when James got caught using other drugs, huffing became his dangerous addiction of choice.
"My friends kind of recommended it 'cause we couldn't find any other drugs to use," Ward said. "Air freshener, paint, everything ... It was quick and easy, disposable ... It's not illegal to buy."
Harvey Weiss, who runs the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, said children have no idea of the risks.
"Part of the allure is that it works very quickly because it goes to the brain," Weiss said.
"Anytime a person uses an inhalant it could be a fatal episode. It could be the first time, the second time, the 20th time."
Beyond the risk of death, chronic inhalant abuse can impair kidney or liver functions. Users can also suffer from memory and hearing loss and even permanent brain damage.
The practice is graphically displayed in the R-rated movie "Thirteen." And even in the PG-rated movie "Scooby Doo 2," Weiss said, a subtle reference to inhalants is passed off as comic relief.
"They don't think that their child would do it, that it's cute and innocent to do it. But it isn't. It is a deadly game," Weiss said.
For parents who think, "My son wouldn't do this," James Ward has this rejoinder: "He could be doing it right now."
"It just didn't hit my radar screen. Period," said Toy Slayton. "If I had only known what I know today."
Turning regret into resolve, this mother wants to warn others of what she could never have imagined.
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