A survey released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration finds that lifetime use of potentially deadly inhalants among 12-year-olds was 6.9 percent in 2008, compared with 5.1 percent for illegal prescription drugs, 1.4 percent for marijuana, 0.7 percent for hallucinogens and 0.1 percent for cocaine.
"We continue to face the challenge of increasing experimentation and intentional misuse of common household products among the youngest and most vulnerable segments of our population - 12 year olds," Harvey Weiss, executive director for the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, said in a statement. "The data are ominous and their implications are frightening because of the toxic, chemical effects of these legal products on growing minds and bodies."
Products that young Americans sniff include aerosol cans, glue, paint solvents and lighter fluid, among others. Experts warn that these inhalants can cause cardiac arrest, known as "sudden sniffing death."
The data, found in the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, was released in conjunction with the 18th annual National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week.
Sniffing has been a fairly steady trend among 12-year-olds in recent years, according to Joseph Gfroerer, director of SAMHSA's division of population surveys. The lifetime rate has fluctuated between 7.7 percent and 6.1 percent since 2002.
More broadly, 1.1 percent of children ages 12 to 17 engaged in sniffing in 2008, compared with 6.7 percent who smoked marijuana.
According to Dr. Timothy Condon, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the data on inhalants abuse presents a number of potential troublesome trends.
"There's a disturbing downward trend among high schoolers who see 'great risk' in using inhalants once or twice a week," Condon said in a statement. "At the same time, the survey shows that inhalant use isn't declining as much as it has in recent years among eighth and tenth graders. If today's attitude translates into future use, we have reason to be concerned."
Also present at the news conference kicking off the awareness week was Ashley Upchurch, a 17-year-old recovering from an inhalants addiction, who warned of the dangers of sniffing.
"Inhalants were a cheap, legal, and an intense high that would also enhance the feeling I would get from other drugs," she said. "These highs nearly destroyed my life."