& Inhalants Essay, Research Paper
For a long time, Native Americans have had problems with substance abuse. They are among the highest
of all ethnic groups in drug abuse with an estimated 7.8% prevalence of a need for drug treatment. Some
of these substances include alcohol, marijuana, crank, cocaine, LSD, and inhalants.
Inhalants include gases and sniffing drugs which can be found in household items as common as
glue, nail polish, and spray whipped cream. The prolonged use of these solvents entails significant risk of
brain damage, while other serious health problems observed in chronic sniffers include respiratory
difficulties; liver malfunction; blood abnormalities; and nervous system damage. Other hazards may
include Sudden Sniffing Death, violent or aggressive behavior, suffocation, burns and freezing to death,
and fetal solvent syndrome. Unfortunately, laws prohibiting sale of these products, especially to minors,
are difficult to enforce.
Because many inhalants are ordinary products which are simply misused, they are readily available
and relatively cheap. As a result, many people, adolescents in particular, have taken advantage of solvents
and are using them to get an easy high. The most common ethnic groups to use inhalants, besides
Caucasians, are Hispanics and Native Americans, making teenage Native Americans primary sniffers. In
addition, unlike most other ethnic groups, female American Indians are just as likely to inhale as their
Two examples of this use of inhalants among Indian tribes occurred in North Dakota, where a
group of Lakota teenagers used Wite-Out, a correctional fluid, to paint the insides of their noses in order
to achieve a high. Another boy from the same area was smoking and inhaling a flammable intoxicant with
friends when the intoxicant caught fire and produced a flame which followed the trail of the intoxicant
down the boy’s throat.
In Placer County, a case study was done on 62 women of the Maidu and Miwok tribes on drug and
alcohol awareness. Of the women, who ranged in age from 17 to 36, 15 % used sniffing drugs and 6%
inhaled gas daily. Their reasons for using inhalants and other drugs were to socialize with friends, feel
more energetic, and forget painful experiences.
Other proven causes of solvent abuse include multiple personal and social problems; poor
adjustment to work environments; multi-problem and disrupted families; varied socioeconomic
conditions; impoverished, marginal or ghetto situations; and parental alcohol/drug abuse, all of which
exist in the miserable conditions of reservation life.
Teenagers of dysfunctional families may be more likely to engage in inhalant use because they
accept violence and substance abuse as parts of their lives. If their parents have a weak influence on them
or do not discourage drug use because they practice it themselves, their children are far more likely to
develop a problem. This is true of tribal Native Americans, who practically all take in alcohol and use
drugs, even for religious reasons, such as peyote.
Also, although it crosses all socio-economic boundaries, inhalant abuse is more prevalent among
the poor. Studies have shown solvent use is highest where poverty, prejudice and lack of opportunity are
common. Many Indian reservations are indigent and pitiable, with inhabitants who feel hopeless and
unsure of their futures because discrimination and status are holding them back. “Not fitting in with the
white world.” has often been quoted as a reason for drug use.
Perhaps another reason for the use of inhalants by adolescents is the lack of anything better to do.
Many Native American teenagers are bored with their life and their situation and are very likely to hold
membership in drug-using peer clusters, who see solvents as a cheap, quick, and easy rush. Even worse,
targeted education and awareness programs are usually unavailable in many schools and communities, so
young people are generally unaware of the consequences of using inhalants.
In the last decade, efforts have been made by both the American and Canadian governments to set
up American Indian youth treatment centers which would house sniffers, ages 12 to 25, for up to 6
months, while treating them with spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental therapy. They would also
form an outreach program that would pay visits to Indian reservations. While these facilities have been
successful so far, many Native American adults have said that they would never participate in a treatment
program due to fears about confidentiality, having their children involuntarily removed from the home,
and low success rates of programs among friends and neighbors.
As inhalant rates among Native Americans and worldwide continue to rise, hopefully, awareness
of these toxins and their deadly effects will soar as well.