The intentional misuse of safe products

Written on: April 1, 2023 by Nicholas Georges

My early childhood education occurred in the 1990s, which meant I sat through a number of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) classes. The D.A.R.E. program taught children how to resist the peer pressure of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and taking drugs. However, now that I’m an adult, I’ve realized that inhalant abuse was rarely, if ever, mentioned—and it should have received more attention.

Inhalant abuse is the deliberate inhalation of common products, such as glue, nail polish remover, felt-tip pens and certain aerosol products, with the intention of getting high. Inhalant abusers use products that provide a quick “high” with rapid dissipation and minimal “hangover” symptoms.i

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly 21.7 million U.S. residents aged 12 and older have used inhalants at least once in their lives, and recent surveys show that 13.1% of eighth graders have used inhalants.ii According to the American Addiction Centers,iii inhalant abuse usually begins before tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or other substance abuse, which couldiv be because inhalants are legal to obtain and easy to acquire.

While there are a number of products that are abused as inhalants more often than aerosols,v the aerosol industry takes this problem very seriously, which has led to a voluntary warning on aerosol product labels about the potential dangers of intentionally misusing these products. Further, aerosol companies have implemented product stewardship efforts and many retailers will lock up products that are commonly abused.

The Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA) also worked with aerosol member companies to create the Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE), a foundation aimed at addressing inhalant abuse through awareness and education. Inhalant abuse cases decreasedvi between the early 1990s and late 2000s; however, recent informationvii suggests they may be back on the rise.

In April 2021, Families United Against Inhalant Abuse (FUAIA) submitted a petitionviii to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to initiate a rulemaking to adopt a mandatory standard “to address the hazards associated with aerosol ‘duster’ products containing the chemical 1,1-difluoroethane, or any derivative thereof.” The petition asked CPSC to mandate a performance standard requiring manufacturers to add a bitterant agent (other than denatonium benzoate) to all aerosol duster products, as well as a warning statement that the product could kill the user if s/he breathes it. HCPA and other industry stakeholders submitted commentsix to CPSC opposing this petition, citing technical challenges with the proposed bitterant standard and inappropriate labeling, similar to that on cigarettes, which could actually encourage abuse.

In July 2022, CPSC publishedx a briefing package regarding the petition that recommended deferring the petition. While CPSC staff opposed the requests within the petition, it wanted to research other potential solutions that could reduce the intentional abuse of the aerosol duster product category.

With this intent, CPSC asked ASTM International to look into creating a new voluntary standard to minimize the risk of intentional misuse and abuse of aerosol duster products. ASTM held an exploratory call with various stakeholders—including CPSC staff, consumer advocates, behavioral scientists and industry representatives—to discuss potential options, such as enhanced labeling, consumer education, use of aversive agents and product delivery modification to reduce the likelihood of abuse.

Achieving a consensus when developing a voluntary standard is not an easy task, but it’s essential for industry to be a part of these conversations—especially in this case, because inhalant abuse is a behavioral problem. A standard should not deter the appropriate use of a product, nor should the standard draw attention to the fact that the product can be abused (in the instance of including an overly exaggerated warning label).

Any product can pose a hazard when it’s intentionally misused. Industry can’t solve this problem alone, but it can play a role, alongside other stakeholders, to educate the public about the dangers of intentionally misusing or abusing products. To learn more about what you can do to help, I D.A.R.E. you to contact me at SPRAY

i Williams, J.F., & Storck, M. (2007). Inhalant abuse. Pediatrics, 119(5), 1009–1017.
ii NIDA. 2020, May 28. Letter from the Director. Retrieved from here
iii American Addition Centers Editorial Staff. 2021, July 9. The Dangers of Inhalant Abuse. Retrieved from here
iv Kurtzman, T.L., Otsuka, K.N., & Wahl, R.A. (2001). Inhalant abuse by adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 28(3), 170–180.
v Based on the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA), Center for Behavioral Health Statistics & Quality, National Survey on Drug Use & Health, 2013–2021.
vi Halliburton, A.E., & Bray, B.C. (2016). Long-term prevalence and demographic trends in U.S. adolescent inhalant use: Implications for clinicians and prevention scientists. Substance Use & Misuse, 51(3), 343–356.
vii Forrester, M.B. (2020). Computer & electronic duster spray inhalation (huffing) injuries managed at emergency departments. The American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 46(2), 180–183.
viii FUAIA’s petition is available here
ix HCPA’s letter is available here
x CPSC’s briefing package is available here