CEDAR CITY — On Oct. 30, a 17-year-old girl blacked out while driving in Cedar City.
"She just ran off the roadway and ran through a barbed wire fence," said Cedar City Police Sgt. Jimmy Roden.
The teen was not seriously injured. Inside her car, detectives found a can of computer dust remover. The girl had blacked out after huffing the cleaner.
Over the past month, Cedar City police have arrested six juveniles, all between the ages of 13 and 17, for investigation of huffing.
"In each of the cases they were huffing computer dust remover. Contrary to myths, computer duster products are not simply compressed air, but also contain poisons," Roden said. "If we're seeing six juveniles do it in a month to the point we're arresting or making a charging incident, I think it's pretty safe to assume that there are other cases out there that we're not aware of. Six in a month is a pretty high number."
The six arrests constituted five different incidents. Some of the juveniles were arrested after being caught huffing at school, Roden said. In one case, a 13-year-old boy allegedly stole a can of computer cleaner from a store, walked over to the local park and began huffing before a passer-by spotted what was happening and called police.
Huffing, or inhaling toxic gases, is not limited to computer dust cleaner. Felt–tipped markers, gasoline, butane, paint and glue are also common items traditionally inhaled illegally. While the problem of huffing is nothing new, Roden said for some reason there has been a spike in juveniles trying it in the Cedar City area.
"Once one kid starts using it and a friend sees it and they try it, and it kind of goes around. It does come in waves, it comes and goes. I think we're seeing more and more of it recently," he said. "It is a trend among our youth."
Cedar City police are now hoping to raise awareness and educate juveniles about the dangers of huffing — including how highly addictive it is — as well as educating parents about what red flags to look for.
If a child has a lot of computer dust cleaning cans in his backpack or room for no reason, Roden said that should be one indicator. He said parents should also watch for things like juveniles using actual paint to paint their nails — another traditional indicator of huffing — or even paint on their faces.
"Parents just need to educate their children on what it is and how dangerous the effects of it can be and just have a candid conversation," Roden said.
Police have also been going into the community to talk to local businesses, asking them to cooperate with police in trying to put a stop to the practice.
"If you have a 17-year-old buying 10 cans of dust remover, that's a red flag," he said.
Huffing can cause everything from dizziness, nausea, headaches and stomach pains to central nervous system and death, Roden said. An estimated 2.6 million juveniles abuse huffing substances each year.
"Don’t wait until you suspect a problem. Educate your child on the dangers of abusing inhalants," Roden said. "If you suspect your child or someone you know is abusing inhalants, confront them and encourage them to seek professional counseling."
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