Phoenix Werner’s family said he was never into the drug scene and just wanted to fit in, but without their knowledge, the 14-year-old boy had been huffing spray deodorant to get high— a choice that cost him his life.
As Werner’s family raises money for his funeral, they and health officials in Australia, where Werner lived, are warning other parents about the risks of inhalants, news.com.au reported.
“It’s often done in secret, so it’s very important for adults, teachers and parents to be aware of what’s happening to their teenagers and also the community about the risks of drug use, including inhalants,” Bronwyn Milne, a staff specialist at Children’s Hospital at Westmead, in a suburb of Sydney, told news.com.au.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), individuals may use inhalants by sniffing or snorting fumes from containers, spraying aerosols into the nose or mouth, inhaling fumes from a bag (“bagging”), huffing from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth, or inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons. People who use inhalants often huff substances multiple times to prolong the fleeting high they draw from the action. The NIH estimates that among American teenagers in 2015, nearly 5 percent of eighth graders, 3 percent of 10th graders and 2 percent of 12th graders used inhalants in the year prior.
“[Teenagers] may think that, these are just products anybody can buy, so how can it be dangerous?” John Malouff, an associate psychology professor at the University of England, told news.com.au. “Anybody can buy a nail too, but if you drive it into your head, it’s going to cause big problems for you.”
Inhalants can cause similar effects to alcohol, as well as hallucinations. But in the long term, they can cause serious brain damage, as well as health problems like asphyxiation, choking, seizures, suffocation or cardiac arrest— as was the case for Werner.
At a Geelong, Australia, home— about 50 miles southwest of Melbourne— where Werner died Friday, police found several spray deodorant cans strewn about.
Chelsea O’Keefe, Werner’s oldest Cousin, told news.com.au that she thinks peer pressure compelled him to begin huffing.
“This was not the type of person he wanted to be. He didn’t want to be involved in the drug scene, he just wanted to fit in,” she told the Geelong Advertiser, according to news.comau. “Unfortunately he paid for it with his own life.”
O’Keefe has started a GoFundMe.com page to help cover Werner’s funeral expenses.