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Huffing linked to other Vt. fatalities - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Huffing linked to other Vt. fatalities

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Getting high is as simple as pulling the trigger on several household chemicals. The trend is called huffing -- and it's highly dangerous.

"Huffing is slang term for inhaling volatile chemical substances," said Barbara Cimaglio with the Vt. Department of Health.

Police say 18-year-old Benjamin Miller of Belvidere was intentionally inhaling the gas vapors from a product called Dust Off when he blacked out behind the wheel. His Subaru slammed into the back of Ronald Turgeon's motorcycle, killing the 56-year-old rider from New Hampshire.

"A decade ago we didn't hear of cases like this," said Vermont State Police Lt. John Flannigan.

Now there's been two within two months. Police say 17-year-old Carly Ferro of Rutland is dead because 23-year-old Alex Spanos had been taking countless hits of compressed gas before he triggered a chain reaction crash that pinned Ferro between her father's car and the building where she worked.

Reporter Jennifer Reading: How long does it take before you become impaired as a driver?

Lt. John Flannigan: Almost instantaneous.

"They go straight to the brain and that's why they cause such impairment," Cimaglio said.

National statistics show that 12 to 17 year olds abuse inhalants the most, followed by 18 to 25 year olds. White teen males report huffing more than any other group. Health officials say the high from huffing usually lasts less than 5 minutes and can be addicting. It causes permanent brain, kidney and liver damage. Huffing can also kill you. "People can huff gasoline, acetone, spray paint," Lt. Flannigan said.

The manufacturers print warnings on the back of their products and add bittering agents to discourage huffing, but kids are clearly not taking the warnings seriously.

"Really what we stress is parents talking to their children ahead of time. I mean, especially younger children -- grade school and middle school -- that they understand these are poisons," Cimaglio said.

Officials say parents should monitor their household chemicals and ask questions if they start to disappear. Other symptoms of inhalant abuse include:

  • Paint or stains on child's body or clothing
  • Sores around mouth
  • Red eyes or runny nose
  • Chemical odor on breath 
  • Drunk or dazed appearance
  • Loss of appetite.

"Impairment is impairment is impairment," Lt. Flannigan said. He added that recent changes to the drinking and driving laws now allow police to charge huffing drivers with DUIs. "I think we're in tune. These are just another drug out there that we look for," he said.

DUI charges are the just the tip the of iceberg for these drivers.  Benjamin Miller is facing gross negligent operation and leaving the scene of an accident.  Alex Spanos is facing manslaughter charges.

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