Young users are finding that inhaling compressed gas from cans of Dust-off and whipped cream can be a quick odorless high, school resource officers report. Alamo and Danville users tell officers they like it because it's cheap, and effects are intense but come and go quickly.
Problem is, a one-time use of an inhalant is much more likely to leave a person dead than marijuana or alcohol, the two most common drugs used by minors in Danville and Alamo.
"It alters the level of oxygen in the brain and gives you a very short high," said Alamo Sheriff's Department Clp. Elmer Glasser, who works with juveniles in a diversion program, where youths are often placed for abusing drugs.
Kids who use these drugs sometimes crack cartridges of nitrous oxide into balloons and inhale to induce a brief hallucinogenic and euphoric buzz. They also breath in the gas from whipped cream containers and from Dust-off, a refrigerant-based cleaner generally used for clearing dust from computers.
According to recent police reports, nitrous oxide cartridges, known as "whip-its," along with balloons were dumped on the side of an Alamo street.
This is the type of drug paraphernalia parents should keep an eye out for, should they suspect their child is experimenting with drugs, Glasser said.
Users often suffer injuries, from passing out or losing control of their bodies in the altered state.
"It sucks the air out of you," said Danville Police Chief Chris Wenzel. "It burns brain cells."
School Resource Officer Jeff Phelps said he has seen inhalant use come in fits and starts over the past four years. At the high school level, overall use is down, he said.
"It's kind of a trendy thing. If 10 kids think it's cool, then 2,200 do. It's strange," he said.
In 2005, a widespread e-mail began circulating from a Cleveland law officer named Jeff Williams, who told the tale of his son's death from inhaling Dust-off.
Some suspected the story was fabricated, but it turned out to be true and in turn brought mainstream attention to the term "dusting" - at least among parents and law enforcement officials.
School resource officers in Danville and Alamo said they hadn't heard teens or preteens use the term "dusting," to refer to inhaling the gas.
Typically preteens get hold of drugs in Danville from older siblings, Glasser said. But with inhalants, they tend to snag them from their parents or shoplift them from stores. Oftentimes they learn how to use the drugs by going online, Glasser said.
"All they have to do is Google it," Glasser said.
One of the first Web sites that comes up during a Web search for "whip-its" is www.urbandictionary.com. The site contains posts giving directions about how to get high on nitrous oxide using a can of whipped cream, alongside a link to purchase nitrous oxide dispensers online.
The best thing parents can do is monitor the Web sites their children are visiting, ask questions and keep an eye out for "anything that looks different" and involves compressed gas or balloons, Glasser said.