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Getting high at the bank

Freon is drug of choice

June 30, 2010 - It appears someone made an illegal withdrawal from Oxford Bank's main branch at 60 S. Washington St., but they didn't steal money to get rich, they took Freon to get high.

According to bank Spokesman Tony Lasher, the theft was discovered about three weeks ago.

"We had one of our air conditioning units go out," he said. "And when we had the maintenance guy come to check it, he said it's out of Freon, but you guys don't have a Freon leak."

Lasher indicated the repair technician found the type of plastic tubing that belongs on a can of Fix-A-Flat, a tire inflator and sealant. It was found on an air conditioning unit facing the Oxford 7 Theater along Stanton St.

"He told us that must be what's going on – the kids are sucking down the Freon to get high," Lasher said. "He's seen it with a lot of units, I guess."

Taking the Freon out of an air conditioning unit is similar to letting the air out of a tire – you just remove a cap and access the valve.

"The part of the (air conditioning) unit they suck off of, I guess (the tube) fits on there perfectly – that's why they're using them," he added. "That sounds pretty deadly. I couldn't believe it when they told me. I was floored."

Although no report was filed, the bank did notify the Oxford Village Police Department to make the agency aware of the situation. Removing Freon from an air conditioning unit does constitute theft.

Intentionally inhaling gas or vapors in order to get an inexpensive or free high – a practice commonly known as huffing – is one of the most widespread problems in the country, according to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC), based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"More than a million people used inhalants to get high just last year. By the time a student reaches the 8th grade, one in five will have used inhalants," according to the NIPC's website www.inhalants.org. "Statistics show that young, white males have the highest usage rates."

Inhalants are legal, everyday products that are purposely misused to get high. They include air conditioning refrigerant (Freon), paint, model airplane glue, rubber cement, household glue, typewriter correction fluid, lighter fluid, gasoline, felt-tip markers, spray paint, nail polish remover, hair spray, air-freshener, butane, propane and even cooking spray.

"I'll tell you these kids will find anything, won't they? Especially if it's free," Lasher noted. "It's kind of sad."

Inhalant abusers experience a rapid euphoric effect – similar to the intoxication that results from alcohol use – that's derived from the lack of oxygen to the brain. After the initial excitation, they then experience drowsiness, light-headedness and agitation.

According to the NIPC, nearly all of the abused products produce effects that slow down the body's function.

"Varying upon level of dosage, the user can experience slight stimulation, feeling of less inhibition or loss of consciousness," according to the NIPC website.

The consequences for this high can be quite severe, even fatal.

"It's pretty much the fastest way to kill your brain cells," said Dr. Robert Basak, a family practice physician at POH Regional Medical Center's Oxford campus. "It causes a lot of neurological damage, brain slowing, things like that."

Basak stressed there is no safe level of Freon – or similar substances – to inhale.

"Any amount's bad news," he said.

In addition to their brain, an inhalant user can damage their heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, bone marrow and other organs.

An inhalant user can also suffer from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.

"This means the user can die the 1st, 10th or 100th time he or she uses an inhalant," according to www.inhalants.org.

If someone you know is huffing, the NIPC recommends remaining calm and seeking help. "Agitation may cause the huffer to become violent, experience hallucinations or suffer heart dysfunction which can cause Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome," stated the group's website. "Make sure the room is well ventilated and call EMS. If the person is not breathing, administer CPR."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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