A recent case of two women being arrested for allegedly inhaling toxic vapors highlights a problem Mount Airy police are seeing with greater frequency — one involving potentially deadly consequences.
Known as “dusting,” or “huffing,” it involves inhaling compressed-air products such as those used to clean computer keyboards and other electronic components in order to get high.
City Police Chief Dale Watson said this practice has been around for awhile, but has become more apparent of late.
“It is more common now that it has been,” Watson said. “We’re seeing an increased frequency of it now.”
On March 27, Mount Airy officers investigated a case at Walmart in which two people were found in possession of a canned-air product known as Ultra Duster which had been taken from the store.
Misdemeanor violations of inhaling toxic vapors and possession of toxic vapors were filed against Tonya Kaye Edwards, 30, of 584 Tom Creek Road, and Crystal Nicole Barker, 30, of 456 Poteat Road. They are facing two counts each of those offenses involving Walmart and a separate incident at the Granite Town Centre shopping center.
Edwards and Barker are scheduled to appear in Surry District Court on April 26.
On Feb. 25, Shianna Jane Bowling, 29, of 145 Dover Church Road, was accused of inhaling toxic vapors and other offenses after she was found passed out at Forrest Oaks Shopping Center. The Surry County Emergency Service responded and it was determined that Bowling had inhaled a toxic vapor, according to arrest records. She is facing an April 19 court appearance.
Inhaling toxic vapors often produces such serious effects among users, according to the police chief, who said it can cause them to lose consciousness as well as control over bodily functions. The outcome in abuse incidents is sometimes more severe.
“Many individuals have died because of using these products for that purpose,” the police official said, although no fatalities specifically linked to them have been reported locally.
Propellants contained in them cut off the oxygen supply to the brain, which can cause physiological damage along with the high — especially among adolescents.
Watson cited cases in which people have stolen compressed-air products from Walmart, then proceeded to restrooms inside the store to inhale the substances — where they have been found suffering from the effects by store personnel or police.
Other products are used as inhalants to achieve the same purpose, in addition to those which remove dust from electronic components, including canisters of whipped cream. Computer dusters are considered particularly dangerous to inhale due to the gases they contain expanding and cooling rapidly upon being sprayed.
Ultra Duster, the product used in the most-recent arrests, contains difluoroethane, a refrigerant related to freon. Its label warns that deliberately inhaling that substance is dangerous and can be fatal.
Based on national reports, those most prone to experiment with inhalants are middle school-age kids, although older individuals are involved as well. Girls are said to be the most-frequent abusers.
Earlier this month, two men in their early 20s who attend a technical institute in South Dakota were jailed after huffing canned air and being involved in a wreck. Their vehicle left the road after the driver blacked out, according to news coverage of the incident.
One problem hampering police in controlling the abuse of inhalants surrounds the fact that unlike controlled substances such as marijuana, legal products are involved which can be obtained readily from store shelves.
Unless someone is showing signs of impairment, is in possession of one of the products or there is evidence to show they have inhaled it, officers are powerless to act.
The manufacturers of some products, including Ultra Duster, have included additives that make the vapors bitter and unpleasant to inhale to discourage their potential abuse or misuse. Certain retailers, including the Target chain, also are requiring those trying to buy dusting products to present identification.
Aside from those steps, parents and teachers are urged to monitor activities of young people to detect their possible use among that age group.
Mount Airy’s police chief just thinks it’s regrettable that otherwise-legitimate items are being used for non-intended purposes and leading to major problems in some cases.
“It’s sad,” Watson said. “It really is sad.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.