BANGOR – Hidden in the woods, but basically right in front of anyone who takes the time to look is a huffing problem within the city’s homeless community.
“We do deal with a few people, some regular customers if you will, who do have an addiction to it,” said Sgt. Wade Betters, Bangor Police Department spokesman.
“This is more or less, to be honest to ya, in a similar category as alcoholism. We’re not arresting people for drinking. It’s their vice. It’s what they get through their day on,” Betters added later.
Those who use inhalants to get high are violating the law, but it’s a civil offense in Maine.
There are dozens of household products that can be used to get high.
“This stuff is very cheap so you can access it easily,” said Lauren Simone, Northern New England Poison Center director. “The other thing is this is a product that is very addicting. So you see a lot of use in young kids … or maybe people who have less means or access to other drugs.”
Most of the information posted on the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s web page for Inhalant Use Prevention deals with teens and huffing, and what parents should be on the lookout for.
That’s because the primary population of inhalant users are under the age of 18, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The data shows around 8 percent of Maine middle school and high school students have tried huffing.
“It is very challenging to get people to stop using this,” Simone said.
It can also be deadly, even for first-time users, she added.
Longterm users could face “largely irreversible brain injury,” as well as suffer from arrhythmia and asphyxia — if users fall asleep in the wrong position — both of which can be fatal, Simone said.
Two years ago, teens huffing whipped cream got so bad in Southwest Harbor, police issued a warning to parents.
“It’s cheap. It’s a quick high and you can get several highs out of one can,” Lt. Michael Miller of the Southwest Harbor Police, said at the time.
Southwest Harbor Police Chief Alan Brown said Wednesday, educating parents has helped reduce the problem in his area.
Betters said education is the key to keeping teens off huffing. For adults, however, little can be done if they don’t want help.
“Sometimes we will charge them but oftentimes, you know, there is really no stopping them until that person is ready, even if we get involved,” he said.
The Northern New England Poison Center can be reached at 1-800-221-2222.