Inhalant misuse is the intentional inhalation of volatile substances in order to obtain euphoric, disinhibiting, and exciting effects. Solvents, glues, adhesives, paints, varnishes, paint removers, dry cleaning agents, spray paints, nail polish removers, typewriter correction fluids, and aerosol propellants are common sources of volatile substance abuse. In recent years the abuse of inhalant substances, not only among those who abuse other drugs but also in teenagers and younger children, has been reported. We reviewed retrospectively the cases of inhalant misuse reported to the Spanish Poison Control Center.
Human intoxications from abuse of inhalant substances registered by our service from 1991 to 2000 were studied. Data analyzed were relative to age, gender, signs and symptoms, drug dependence antecedents, and severity of symptoms of the patients. The type of product and composition were also investigated.
During the study period 109 cases of patients aged from 8 to 50 years were collected. A percentage of 36.6% was less or equal to 20 years old. Seventy percent corresponded to males. Of the patients, 11% presented dependence antecedents to other abuse drugs and 72.5% were symptomatic. In the symptomatic exposures clinical features affected the following systems: CNS (62.8%), gastrointestinal (8.1%), cardiovascular (8.1%), respiratory (2.9%), peripheral nervous system (1.1%), renal (1.1%), haematological (1.1%), hepatic (1.7%), and other (13.1%). The commercial products more frequently inhaled were solvents (34.9%) and glues/adhesives (22.9%). We noted the use of medicines with ethyl chloride-local anaesthetic (8.3%), three cases with aerosol bronchodilator (with fluorocarbons as propellants), and one case of xylazine inhalation. The composition most often involved was aromatic hydrocarbons (46.9%), halogenated hydrocarbons (16.5%), aliphatic hydrocarbons (11.4%), ketones (10.1%), local anaesthetic (ethyl chloride) (8.4%), ethers (2.5%), nitrous oxides (2.5%), and aliphatic nitrites (1.7%). The calls received were 59.6% from health care units and 22% from general public. Only 14% of cases were at home and 48% had moderate to severe clinical effects. Acute intoxications occurred in 82% of cases.
Inhalation of volatile substance as abuse drugs has been detected in different age groups, including very young people. Although the principal source was industrial products, the use of drugs such as local anaesthetics and aerosol broncodilators was also detected. Based on epidemiological studies in the Spanish population (essentially adolescents and childhood) together with the ability of a Poison Center to detect sentinel-events, the community and authorities should develop strategies to prevent these exposures and the later use of other substances of abuse. In fact, recently a Law on Drug Dependences and Other Addictive Alterations has been approved in Madrid in order to take precautionary measures.