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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a counselor at a residential home for teen-age girls. We've recently had a problem with a few of our girls "huffing" (inhaling) cleaning chemicals. We've had several discussions with the girls, separately and in groups, about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Although the girls repeat our warnings to us and appear to understand, I doubt that they fully understand how dangerous it is. I overheard one girl say, "Plenty of movie stars do it."

I remember a column in which you once printed a list of celebrities who had died from alcohol or drug-related incidents. If you would reprint it, I would be most appreciative. -- CONCERNED COUNSELOR, VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.

DEAR CONCERNED COUNSELOR: Although I have listed the names of celebrities who died because of tobacco, I haven't previously published a list of celebrities whose deaths were substance-abuse related. However, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention was able to provide me with one. The amount of God-given talent lost because of substance abuse is tragic:

Chet Baker, John Belushi, Kurt Cobain, John Coltrane, Dorothy Dandridge, Miles Davis, Jerry Garcia, Judy Garland, Andy Gibb, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Bela Lugosi, Keith Moon, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Charlie "Bird" Parker, Edith Piaf, River Phoenix, Elvis Presley, Freddie Prinz Sr., Jean Seberg, Sid Vicious and Dennis Wilson.

I was shocked to learn that inhalant abuse is the fourth most common form of substance abuse among high school students, behind alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. While nine out of 10 parents refuse to believe their children would take such a foolish risk, a 1997 national household survey on drug abuse revealed that almost as many eighth-graders have abused inhalants (21 percent) as have used marijuana (22.6 percent).

Among the common products on the market with the potential for being abused: glues, nail polish remover, paint products, correction fluid, hair spray, gasoline, room deodorizers, markers, Freon, lighter fluid, gases (helium, butane, propane), computer sprays, cleaning agents and fire extinguishers. The effects of inhalant abuse include intoxication, short-term memory loss, hearing loss, limb spasms, bone marrow damage, liver and kidney damage, permanent brain damage and death.

Last August, a reader named Michael Richardson sent me a copy of a letter about "huffing" he had sent to his local newspaper. In part, it read:

"When I was younger, 20 years ago, three schoolmates got a kick from sniffing Pam, the nonstick food stuff. They are dead because of it. I understand that Pam and Scotchguard are popular today.

"Many people do not realize that the solvents they get a buzz from are only carriers of the product in a spray can. The solvents help distribute the product uniformly on their intended surface.

"Pam uses oil to 'seal' and prevent food from bonding to the surface of a hot frying pan; Scotchguard is a fluorocarbon compound used to 'seal' dirt from cloth; paint uses pigments and binders to 'seal' out the environment, preventing deterioration and rust.

"When these materials are concentrated into the human lungs they also 'seal' out the transfer of oxygen to the body. So while you're getting a buzz from the carrier solvent, you're also drowning from lack of oxygen. There is nothing anyone can do to help you; you're as good as dead, and that's it."

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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