In October 2012, a three-vehicle crash killed four people in Greene County, Pennsylvania. As police investigated the crash, it became clear that the crash was caused because three of the men had been “huffing” compressed air. As such, the crash is drawing renewed attention to the dangers of intoxicated driving.
The accident occurred on Interstate 79 near Washington Township. According to police reports, an SUV left the northbound lanes, went over a median and then rolled into southbound traffic. There, the vehicle was hit motorcycle and a pickup truck. Three of the SUV occupants and the motorcycle driver were killed in the crash. Three other passengers in the SUV were injured, as was a woman who was riding on the back of the motorcycle. The occupants of the pickup truck were not hurt in the accident.
After the accident, the coroner conducted autopsies on the three 18-year-old men killed in the SUV. The coroner found that all three men had the chemical difluoroethane in their blood streams. Difluoroethane is a gas that is used in compressed air sprays, such as those used to clean computers and electronics.
The coroner concluded that the young men had been purposefully inhaling compressed air in the moments before the car crash in an effort to get high. In some cases, inhalation of a large amount of difluoroethane can cause unconsciousness or sudden death. Even if that was not the case in this crash, the disorientation and lightheadedness that huffing causes can be enough to lead to a serious traffic accident.
Risks Of Inhalant Abuse
As a society, we talk a lot about the dangers of drinking and driving. However, we aren’t always as open about the risks that come with other types of intoxication.
Many times, teens take risks because they don’t fully understand how dangerous a behavior really is. In turn, parents don’t take the time to educate their teens because they aren’t aware of what teens are doing or don’t want to believe that their child could get into trouble.
This is especially true when it comes to inhalant abuse. Huffing is surprisingly common among teenagers, largely because it is so easy to obtain potentially intoxicating chemicals. According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 10 percent of American adolescents over the age of 12 have abused inhalants. Hair spray, compressed air, glue, air fresheners, paint and cigarette lighters can all be used as inhalant drugs. These substances can either be soaked into a rag, put into a bag or inhaled directly from the container.
The intoxicating side effects of huffing can include euphoria, dizziness, lost coordination and reduced inhibitions. These effects are dangerous on their own, especially when vehicles are involved. However, huffing can also lead to accidental suffocation, seizures, lost conscious or death. Long-term inhalant abuse can lead to organ problems, brain damage and hearing loss.
Parents in Pennsylvania would be wise to learn more about the risks of inhalant abuse and then have an intentional conversation with their teens. By discussing the issue before it becomes a problem, parents can help their teens be better armed to make good decisions.