AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Overcome by paint vapors, the young man had lost consciousness. His listless body slumped forward. His face dropped into the plastic bag. He became asphyxiated. When paramedics hugged Bob McCarty, he knew. He knew that his beautiful curly haired son who as a toddler brazenly batted his eyes at waitresses, who later grew to 6 feet 4 inches tall and excelled at football and lacrosse, that his boy with a knack for mathematics and language classes, was dead. Although the coroner declared it an accident, Mike McCarty died from the tragic consequences of abusing everyday products to get high – a growing and troubling trend on the rise with adolescents. Teens don’t need drug dealers for a fix. They’re finding it in medicine cabinets, under the kitchen sink and in the garage. It can be a bottle of cough medicine. A bottle of nail polish remover. A can of air freshener. A package of cold pills. Inhalant abuse on the rise Mike McCarty died after bagging – where aerosol and vapor-containing items are poured into a bag and inhaled. It’s similar to huffing – where similar products are sprayed into a rag and then breathed in. Both uses rob the brain of oxygen, creating a dizzy, buzzed feeling for a few minutes. It can also lead to sudden death. Inhalant abuse made headlines years ago when its popularity peaked among adolescents. But it’s steadily rising again, gaining ground with over-the-counter drug abuse, which experts say is soaring among adolescents. The practice involves taking regular cough, cold or allergy medicine in large doses, which can give hallucinogenic effects. “You think why on Earth would I take something that I could spray my motorcycle with and inhale it into my lungs, and the answer is 14-year-old kids aren’t that smart, and they don’t have a sense of dying,” Bob McCarty said. Many kids don’t consider these products as real drugs, such as marijuana and methamphetamines, because the items come from home and convenience marts and not from dealers. They also don’t consider themselves taking drugs either. But the products remain an attraction to curious adolescents, in part because they’re cheap and easy to get. These items also fly under the nose of many moms and dads who realistically wouldn’t question markers, computer cleanser or other household products sitting in their children’s rooms. Still, even parents keeping watch for signs of drug use can overlook the symptoms because they’re only looking for what they know – the stench of marijuana, the smell of beer. They don’t always recognize the rags, cotton balls or bottles of spray deodorant on the night stand as other possibly signs of drug use. “Huffing and over-the-counter medications scare me the most out of everything right now,” said Cary Quashen, president of the Santa Clarita-based Action Family Counseling and Action Parent-Teen Support program. “Kids make contracts not to do drugs, but to them these aren’t drugs.” Quashen said that nearly all of the 1,000 teens in treatment at Action’s nine clinics and two residential treatment centers have huffed and abused over-the-counter medications at one time. Availability, excitement and lack of knowledge about the drugs are the main reasons why they’ve become so popular, he said. Beginners to addicts Its prevalence is found at all levels of drug use, from young experimenters to young habitual users. Even slick users who’ve moved onto harder drugs sometimes return to huffing and over-the-counter medications when they’re supposedly in recovery, because they are usually not detectable in drug tests. Tom Hedrick, director of The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said inhalants and medicine abuse are the two biggest problems that the nonprofit is seeing and are also the least understood, with parents being even less aware of it. One in five children have tried huffing or bagging, with use starting in third and fourth grade, then peaking among eighth-graders before it slows down, according to the New York-based organization. In 2004, the nonprofit reported an increase of inhalant use, after a two-year decline, and expects the trend to continue in 2005, because fewer kids view the behavior as dangerous, Hedrick said. “You can literally die trying it once,” Hedrick said. “The biggest problem is that so few people know what’s going on. It happens under the radar screen.” At a recent Action Parent-Teen Support Group meeting at Saugus High School, nearly all 33 students raised their hands when asked if they ever tried inhalants. Suddenly stories about inhaling whipped cream cans – whippets – and Dust-Off, called dusting, filled the classroom. Another got high from the spray deodorant Axe. One teen talked about going into flops – seizures – when he once inhaled too much. He and his friend were in the woods getting high when that happened. Easy to get Sascha Aquino was 16 and alone at home the first time she inhaled Dust-Off, a can of compressed air used to clean computers. She had heard from others about the high it gives and was curious about it. So she put the whole nozzle in her mouth and pressed down, not knowing that the ingredients could be deadly. She used it a few more times after that, in part, she said because it was easy to get to. “You could go to Best Buy and open it up and do it there without having to take it home,” she said. About 1.7 million 12- to 17-year-olds were estimated to have used inhalants in 2004, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency with the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency reported similar use for 2003. “You’re talking about a problem that is not going away,” said spokeswoman Leah Young. “These are numbers that one does have to worry about, because kids can die instantly.” Aquino later moved onto Coricidin Cough and Cold, known as Triple C, and Robitussin. Both over-the-counter medications contain dextromethorphan, nicknamed DXM, which has been discovered by adolescents in the last five years, said Richard Geller, medical toxicologist and director of the California Poison Control System in Fresno. Aquino would check the ingredients on back of the medications and if there was more than 15 milligrams of dextromethorphan inside, she’d use it. Robitussin especially seemed to give her strength, and the teen would drink two bottles each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes a co-worker did it with her. They read on the Internet about reaching different plateaus with the drug with the highest being an out-of-body experience. They tried over and over to achieve that. The cycle continued off and on for about two years for Aquino. She has since quit all drug use and is in recovery. Ten percent of kids Over-the-counter drug use has grown from modest to startling proportions over the last 18 months, Hedrick said, noting that one in 10 kids have reported using cough medicine to get high. Ashley Lane was 13 when she first started drinking, huffing and smoking pot. When she and her friends didn’t have money to get high for a hook up, they stole Coricidin from drug stores for a quick fix. She took 10 pills at a time, and when she built up a tolerance, she moved onto 15. One night, Lane and a friend each took 20 pills, and then they went their separate ways. The friend ended up in the emergency room. Meanwhile Lane went to the movies where she threw up and began to pass out. But another friend took her home, keeping her up all night playing music and smoking cigarettes so she wouldn’t fall asleep. Lane, who also snorted methamphetamines, never touched Coricidin again. Now 16, she has been sober for more than seven months. She said Coricidin was scarier than methamphetamines. “I knew a lot of tweakers and when you’re spun, you know what’s going on, but you’re paranoid,” Lane said. “I knew what was going on when I was on meth. But when I was on Coricidin, I didn’t know.” Seeking solutions Some are wondering what more can be done to protect adolescents from misusing these products. While Congress battles over setting a federal standard for selling medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which can be extracted and used to cook methamphetamines, some are wondering if more products, such as Robitussin and Coricidin should also be considered. Manufacturers in the past have sometimes changed the ingredients of their products to prevent drug abuse. Pseudoephedrine was replaced in some medications with prenlephrine, a weaker and less effective drug. When Liquid Paper was a popular pick for bagging, manufacturers removed the solvent that could make people high, said Geller. Products abused as inhalants should be put behind the counter with the buying age set at 18, because their effects can be equally as deadly, said McCarty. It could be added to the list of products that teens under 18 can’t buy, such as spray paint and diet pills containing ephedrine. The downward spiral “I can’t explain how wiped out this stuff should be,” McCarty said. It’s been only four months since the McCartys buried their son. A year ago, Mike was doing well at Chaminade Middle School. But last spring, he was caught with alcohol in his locker. School officials wanted to expel him, but the family pleaded to let the boy stay and asked that he be assigned to perform community service so he could graduate with his friends. But the answer was no. Instead of an expulsion, however, he was allowed to withdraw from the school. That’s when the boy’s life quickly unraveled, his dad said. He began smoking pot, tried cocaine, huffed, bagged and took Robitussin and Coricidin in large quantities. The McCartys then sent their son to a treatment center for help. During his admission, a counselor asked Mike if he ever tried Dust-Off. Bob McCarty had never heard of Dust-Off before but decided to let it go, because there was so much more going on that day. Two weeks later Mike came home and had sworn off drugs. Passing regular drug tests, the 14-year-old seemed clean and clear for about 45 days. The family thought their son’s days of addiction were over. But there was more to come. Mike had found another way to get high – huffing and bagging. Neither shows up on the drug tests. The family had no idea that he was still getting high until they found him that August day in the bathroom. Their brain dead son was kept alive at the hospital on a respirator for four days while the family absorbed what had just happened. “From April to August. Four months. With a busy parent, that’s nothing. And boom.” McCarty said. Counselors see increases At the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of the San Fernando Valley, more teens are coming in who have been using over-the-counter medications, said Susan Shaddock, director of program services. Shaddock said that these drugs have always been abused by teens, but that every once in a while, something happens to bring them to the attention of adolescents. This time, she wonders if it’s the focus these medications are getting in some stores that have voluntarily put them behind the counter. State law limits sales of products with pseudoephedrine to consumers, allowing about nine grams of the drug per purchase. That’s typically about two to three bottles of pseudophedrine-containing medicine. Some chain drug stores and retailers have also voluntarily placed products containing dextromethorphan, such as NyQuil and Robitussin, behind the counter. But that brings awareness to the drugs and for some, it’s a reason to try, she said. Still, she said that anything to curb drug use is worth a shot. But how do you regulate products used for huffing, bagging and over-the-counter medications when the possibilities for abuse are found in hundreds of them? That, some say, is when parents need to be the regulators. The problem is that many don’t know what to look for or that the situation even exists. Shaddock agrees, adding that everything can’t be kept under lock and key. “Regulations make it more difficult, and if they’re that difficult maybe they won’t use it,” Shaddock said. “But if they’re trying that hard to get out of their reality, they’ll try something else.” — Sue Doyle,(661) 257-5254 [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WEST HILLS – He was already brain dead by the time his parents broke down the bathroom door. Mike McCarty had no heart beat. He was not breathing. He was 14. Earlier he said that he was going to shower before heading out to the movies. But when the water ran too long, Bob and Laurie McCarty knew there was a problem. The frantic parents banged on the locked bathroom door. They scrambled for the keys. When they got through, a plastic bag lay to their son’s side. The recent eighth-grade graduate had taken spray paint from the garage, squirted it into the bag and inhaled it to get high.