Colorado State University’s Tri-Ethnic Center Receives $1.9 Miilion Grant to Prevent Inhalant Drug Abuse Among Children

Colorado State University’s Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research was recently awarded a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to research and develop strategies to prevent inhalant drug use among children in rural ethnic-minority and non-ethnic communities.

"This project will help us understand why children begin using inhalants and also identify cultural, community and parenting factors that may protect youth in certain ethnic communities from using inhalants less frequently than children of other ethnic groups," said Ruth Edwards, director of the Tri-Ethnic Center. "We are hopeful that results from this research will help in reducing the amount of inhalant abuse among children in communities throughout Colorado, the nation and even worldwide."

Known as huffing or sniffing, the act of getting high by inhaling the fumes of household products is estimated to claim the lives of more than one thousand children each year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhalants often are among the first drugs that young children use.

The Tri-Ethnic Center study will examine inhalant use among children in grades four through eight in rural communities across the United States, as well as gather information on how family, peer, school, neighborhood and cultural factors influence inhalant use. The study’s goal is to develop prevention strategies and culturally appropriate prevention plans for each ethnic group to best address and overcome the problem of inhalant abuse. At the study’s conclusion, a variety of resources, recommendations and strategies will be made available for rural communities across the country.

The five-year, multi-phase study will focus around the center’s Community Readiness Model. The renowned intervention model, developed by faculty at the Tri-Ethnic Center, has helped hundreds of communities and thousands of people facilitate community-based change and reduce social problems such as substance use, school dropout, partner violence, school violence and suicide. The model provides tested and proven methods for assessment, diagnosis and change, and is based on the premise that community efforts must match the community’s level of readiness to deal with a problem in order to be effective in creating positive change.

The first phase of the inhalant study will evaluate the readiness of representative ethnic and non-ethnic rural communities to implement appropriate inhalant abuse prevention programs for their children. Once this is established, researchers will assess the actual amount of inhalant use among young adolescents and pre-adolescents in those communities. The final phase of the project will be to develop a collection of effective resources acceptable to parents that are appropriate for inhalant abuse prevention, develop strategies for using the resources and put those plans into action.

A key component of the study is to focus on five different ethnicities to determine what factors lead youth in certain ethnic groups to abuse inhalants more than children from other cultural backgrounds. African-Americans and Asian-Americans are among groups with lower inhalant use, while Native-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans are among groups more prone to use inhalants.

Data will be collected from children, parents and other adults in a representative sample of rural ethnic and non-ethnic communities. This approach is anticipated to lead to a better understanding of individual risk and protective factors as well as cultural beliefs and practices that are related to the initiation of inhalant use.

"Very little research has been done to explain these cultural and community differences," said Edwards. "Identifying protective factors for inhalant abuse among African-Americans, for example, as well as risk factors among more high-risk groups such as Mexican-Americans, should yield important insights for current and future prevention efforts."

Inhalants are volatile substances found in common products such as paint thinner, lighter fluid, nail polish remover, varnish and butane that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive or mind-altering effect. Sniffing the highly concentrated chemicals can induce irregular and rapid heart rhythms and lead to heart failure within minutes. Inhalant abuse also is known to cause serious respiratory problems and permanent damage to the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

Despite overall declines in drug abuse among schoolchildren in recent years, inhalants are still being abused by children at higher rates than they were a decade ago, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. A National Adolescent Student Health Survey found that 21 percent of eighth graders reported having tried inhalants. Other studies have indicated that about 6 percent of U.S. children have tried inhalants by the time they reach fourth grade. One reason is the ready availability of inhalants on store shelves and in household cabinets.

Edwards is leading the project team that includes Tri-Ethnic Center faculty Barbara Plested, Julie Chen, Fred Beauvais and Pamela Jumper Thurman. The Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research has a 30-year history of multifaceted research efforts aimed at understanding community dynamics and the social, psychological and cultural factors that contribute to adolescent drug use and related problems such as school dropout, delinquency and violence.

More information about the Tri-Ethnic Center can be found on the Web at