BELFAST, Maine — A teen girl whose heart stopped after she was in an accident in April on U.S. Route 1 had been trying to get high by inhaling computer cleaner, Belfast police said Wednesday.
The 17-year-old Searsport resident was charged with illegal use of inhalants, operating under the use of inhalants and operating without a license, Sgt. John Gibbs of the Belfast Police Department said. He is not releasing the girl’s name because she is a minor.
“The teen is humbled, remorseful and thankful,” he said. “She thought dusting was a harmless high. She said, ‘I had no idea how dangerous it was.’”
She had purchased a can of Blow Off Duster cleaner just 10 minutes prior to the April 23 accident, according to Gibbs. Immediately after she inhaled the liquefied gas in the can, she passed out, and her car hit a guardrail under the Waldo Avenue bridge, bounced off and then slid along another guardrail, he said. The car then slammed into a vehicle approaching the on-ramp near the Route 1 bridge near downtown Belfast.
Good Samaritans pulled the teen out of her wrecked car, Gibbs said.
Although initial police reports indicated that a passersby performed CPR on her, Gibbs said that she only stopped breathing after police arrived.
“I started CPR and brought her back. She was breathing for a few breaths, then stopped again. We brought her back again,” the sergeant said. “She was shocked by [a defibrillator]. She was revived more than a few times.”
When the girl was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for treatment, her outlook was very grim, Gibbs said.
“They lost her several times,” he said. “She miraculously came out of it with no injury, no trauma, no effects.”
Gibbs said that police are starting to see more instances of people using inhalants, such as the computer cleaner, in search of a high.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a 2011 study showed that about 12 percent of eighth grade students reported using inhalants. The practice is known as sniffing, huffing or dusting.
“Many products readily found in the home or workplace … contain volatile substances that have psychoactive [mind-altering] properties when inhaled,” the drug fact sheet on inhalants stated. “People do not typically think of these products as drugs because they were never intended for that purpose. However, these products are sometimes abused in that way. They are especially [but not exclusively] abused by young children and adolescents.”
The high produced by inhalants usually lasts just a few minutes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and depresses the central nervous system in a manner not unlike alcohol. Effects can include slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, hallucinations, dizziness and delusions. The chemicals in the inhalants can produce short-term effects, such as nausea and vomiting, and long-term effects, such as hearing loss and brain, liver and kidney damage.
Some manufacturers have even added bittering agents to aerosol cans to deter inhalant abuse, according to the Alliance for Consumer Education’s inhalant abuse prevention website.
Inhalants also can be lethal. When users sniff highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays, it can cause heart failure within minutes, the fact sheet states, even after just one use by an otherwise healthy young person.
“It needs to get out there that it’s not harmless,” Gibbs said. “It’ll kill you.”