Inhalant abuse is known by many names and comes in many forms. Typically, the user takes chemical products and inhales the vapour through their nose and mouth to experience a drug induced high. This practice of inhalant abuse is also known as glue sniffing, dendrite use, volatile substance abuse, solvent use, huffing, and bagging.
According to the Canadian Health Network, there are a variety of methods of inhalant abuse. "Sniffing" occurs directly from containers. Users sometimes heat the containers to produce fumes at a more rapid rate. This practice places users at high risk because many inhalants are highly flammable. "Huffing" involves soaking fabric into a solvent which is then placed on the user’s nose and mouth where chemical fumes are inhaled. "Bagging" occurs where the substance is placed in a bag. The bag is placed over the nose and mouth for the user to inhale the fumes.
Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN), established in 1987, is a non-government organization that has been promoting childrens’ rights. CWIN Program Officer, Sanu Giri, first learned about the practice of glue sniffing in 1998. Since 2001, Giri has noticed glue sniffing becoming a serious problem among street children in Nepal. SAATHI is another non-profit organization that has been working with street children by providing shelter, counseling services, and non-formal education. Samjhana K.C. has been working as a SAATHI Outreach Worker since 2001 and has found glue sniffing to be particularly prevalent in the Thamel, Jamal, and Basantapur districts of Kathmandu.
Costs of Sniffing
Glue sniffing has become popular among street children because it is available, cheap, and produces an immediate, euphoric high. In Kathmandu, dendrite is the most commonly used inhalant among street children. Dendrite is a brand of industrial grade adhesive often used for shoe repair or home renovations. According to SAATHI Outreach Workers, a child can purchase enough dendrite to produce a drug induced high for 2 to 3 rupees. A tube of dendrite costs between 30 to 50 rupees. Inhalant users may experience euphoria, hallucinations, or a sense of invincibility. Accessibility is a key difference between dendrite and other street drugs. Various household items can be used for inhalant abuse. Permanent markers, correction pens, nail polish remover, aerosol hairspray, paint solvent, and gasoline are examples of easily accessible inhalants. Addicted children can easily purchase inhalants from local shopkeepers and shoemakers without suspicion.
The health costs of glue sniffing range from chronic health problems to death. Inhalants produce deleterious effects on a child’s neurological, respiratory, and digestive system. In addition to such grave health consequences, glue sniffing has the potential to develop into a widespread trend among children in Kathmandu. SAATHI Outreach Workers have observed both street children and school children engaging in glue sniffing. Why are children sniffing? A report published by CWIN in 2002 has found motivators for inhalant abuse include: peer pressure, easy accessibility, physical addiction, and drug use as a coping strategy.
A hidden addiction
The lack of awareness about glue sniffing is another serious concern. According to Babita Basnet, President of Sancharika Samuha, "media are not aware of this problem and parents are not aware." The lack of information and research on glue sniffing has contributed to the low profile of this serious issue. The general public is largly unaware of glue sniffing entirely. As a result, addicted children can inhale dendrite openly because the community and police have not taken any measures to prevent this activity. Sancharika Samuha, a media awareness and advocacy organization, has suggested more research on glue sniffing be made available to sensitize media personnel of this issue in order to promote greater public awareness.
What is being done?
Child welfare organization SAATHI is currently conducting exploratory research on the needs of dendrite addicted street children. SAATHI is gathering data from Kathmandu street children in order to develop effective long term interventions for addicted children. CWIN has completed research on glue sniffing in the past and currently engages in anti-drug campaigns targeting addicted street children. "Most crucial is a rehabilitation center. Many of the street children are aware of the harmful effects. There nees to be long term support and strong government policies to address this issue," said Suvekycha Rana, Child Program Coordinator of SAATHI. Currently, there are no long term drug rehabilitation facilities for children in Kathmandu. Such services are only available to youth and adults. Furthermore, both CWIN and SAATHI emphasize the need for a comprehensive, long term approach to addiction among street children. Support services, long term rehabilitation centers for children, public awareness, and strong government policies combating glue sniffing are key elements in a comprehensive approach. Simply criminalizing inhalant abuse and penalizing dendrite distributors will only drive glue sniffing underground. In this situation, the more vulnerable street children would be subject to further exploitation. Instead, what is needed is community dialogue between individuals and child welfare agencies to begin addressing this serious issue.
Awareness campaigns about the consequences of glue sniffing should focus not only on the affected children, but also the community, police, shopkeepers, and shoemakers. Samjhana K.C., SAATHI Outreach Worker, has found shopkeepers and shoemakers to be the main distributors of inhalants in Kathmandu. Pooja Niroula, Program Manager of Richmond Fellowship Nepal, stresses that rehabilitation centers for children must take into account the specific needs of street children. For example, many street children enjoy significant independence living on the street. Thus, interventions aimed at addicted street children must attempt to strike a balance between providing structure for recovering addicts and maintaining individual autonomy. Niroula suggests a more effective approach would be peer based education coordinated by recovering addicts.
Why should this matter?
Inhalant abuse kills.
Dendrite use has the potential to become a widespread problem among children in Kathmandu. Many would argue dendrite use has already become an epidemic problem. Rates of inhalant abuse have dramatically increased among street children over the past 6 years. School children have also been seen glue sniffing by SAATHI Outreach Workers. From her experience at Richmond Fellowship, Pooja Niroula finds most recovering addicts started experimenting
with drugs through inhalant abuse.
Increasing awareness about glue sniffing should include both the health consequences of inhalants as well as publicizing the symptoms of a dendrite addicted child to parents. According to the Canadian Health Network, some symptoms of inhalant abuse include: abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea; chemical smell on clothing, hair, or breath; stains on fingers or hands; drooling and spitting; watery or bloodshot eyes; headache and dizziness. Other general signs of a drug use problem include: emotional withdrawl, sudden changes in daily routine, trouble at school, trouble with the law, and new "friends".
Inhalant abuse is a problem not limited to Nepal. Countries around the world have struggled to address inhalant use among children. The Canadian Health Network advises that many children may not realize inhalants can kill both a first time user and a long term user. According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, it is estimated that 100 to 125 Americans die per year as a result of inhalant abuse. During November 2000, the Canadian government responded to a request to intervene and address the issue of 39 gasoline addicted children living in a small Aboriginal community in Labrador, Canada. As a response to the number of gasoline sniffing deaths among Australian Indigenous communities, the Australian government in 2005 promoted a new type of gasoline which has low levels of aromatic hydrocarbons, the substance which gives gasoline sniffers a drug induced high.
Many areas struggling with high rates of inhalant abuse are highly fractured communities experiencing a number of other social issues. Some children turn to glue sniffing to escape their daily reality of life on the streets. Regardless of the individual motivations for inhalant use, the increasing trend of glue sniffing among Kathmandu street children raises larger questions. Why are so many children addicted to inhalants? Perhaps, this is a symptom of larger social problem and the needs of Kathmandu‘s children are being overlooked. Exploring these issues further requires open dialogue about inhalant abuse and the needs of street children.
Equal Opportunities for Children
In law, all children are equal. Section 13(1) of Nepal‘s Interim Constitution of 2007 states, "All citizens shall be equal before the law. No person shall be denied equal protection of the laws." In practice, all children should be valued as they are the future of Nepal. Failing to address the needs of children is a failure of society as a whole. Addiction is a powerful force in which many struggle their entire lives to overcome. The increasing numbers of children addicted to inhalants is an alarming reality. Child welfare workers in Kathmandu have seen a marked increase in glue sniffing in recent years and predict this trend will continue. It is crucial for the government, social welfare agencies, schools, parents, and the public to act now and address this serious problem that is risking the lives of Kathmandu‘s kids.
(The author is a Canadian student working as an internee at Sancharika Samuha)