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Orange County Crime Lab Gears Up to Fight Inhalant Abuse

The Orange County Crime Lab has been awarded over $100,000 to purchase a Headspace Gas Chromatograph with Cold Trap and Mass Spectrometer to enable them to detect and identify the chemicals typically abused as inhalants. This grant dovetails with another grant obtained by the Orange County District Attorney's Office which focuses on Driving under the Influence of Drugs. Special emphasis is expected from both agencies against people driving under the influence of inhalants. Presently, inhalant abuse is difficult to detect because the lab is not equipped with the instruments necessary to analyze inhalants, and because the inhalant chemicals stay in the blood only for a short time.

Inhalant abuse (sometimes called huffing) is most common in teenagers because of the ready availability of the products, the innocuous normal uses of the products, and peer pressure. Products typically abused cover an array of products with a variety of active ingredients. These include compressed air products (such as Dust Off, which contains Difluroethane), Whipped Cream containers (Nitrous Oxide), products sold as room odorizers and head cleaners (Ethyl Chloride, Amyl Nitrite), gasket sealants and starter fluids (Toluene), a variety of spray paints, glues, markers, correction fluids, and other products. Use of inhalants commonly produces symptoms including drowsiness, lightheadedness, dizziness, loss of inhibitions, impaired judgment, and hallucinations or delusions. Many of these symptoms can also impair driving ability.

While the Crime Lab may soon have the ability to detect these chemicals in a person's blood, unlike alcohol, there is limited information regarding a correlation between blood levels of inhalants and impairment, and with regard to predicting prior blood levels based on the inhalant levels found in a blood sample taken later.