Boris Mendelevich: ‘Sniffing as kind of substance abuse is the most widely spread addiction among teenagers’
On the threshold of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, in his op-ed column, the State Duma’s deputy, psychiatrist Boris Mendelevich talks about the scale of expansion of one of the most harmful kinds of drug addiction — substance abuse, particularly, sniffing — and difficulties with detecting the disease.
Drug abuse vs substance abuse: what’s the difference?
Before we start the discussion about sniffing, I will write about the difference between drug abuse and substance abuse. In a word, substance abuse is one of the types of drug abuse that causes serious destruction of the organism and severe addiction. In general substance abuse differs from drug abuse only legally: it is called abuse of substances that aren’t considered drugs by the Ministry of Health, and legal and criminal acts that work for drug abusers don’t apply to it. In other words, it has a semi-legal state.
Sniffing is a kind of substance abuse: patients inhale cooking gas. Moreover, petrol gases or glue used to be popular among such substance abusers, now it is lighters and tourist gas cylinders, which are on sale.
According to statistics, mortality among teenagers who sniff in Russia grows year after year. In 2016, it was 65 fatalities, in 2017 — 142, in 2018 — 154.
How does gas influence the organism?
Inhaling liquefied gas, a person is in a state of euphoria. There is slight drunkenness first, which is like alcohol drunkenness, the body becomes a bit softer, consciousness blurs, the mood goes up. If one keeps inhaling it, there comes the next stage: the perception of the world changes, hallucinations are manifested. Regular consumption of toxic substances brings to the destruction of internal organs and the brain. The memory, attention get worse. The person becomes distracted. His interest in studies, sport is lost.
At the same time, one should understand that cooking gas is very poisonous and kills a person’s nerve cells in the brain. The main danger of volatile substances is that they bypass the digestive tract and liver where they could be partially neutralised immediately get to the blood through the lungs and go to the brain with its impulse, consequently, a person gets drunk faster. So the cortex of a brain hemisphere suffers first, which causes nausea and vomiting; then the cerebellum and medulla suffer. If the drunkenness reaches the medulla, this can cause respiratory failure and death.
Statistics show that substance abuse is popular among minors from 10 to 15-20 years, as at an older age it grows into drug abuse.
Why is substance abuse hard to detect?
The case is that if after the consumption of drugs or psychotropic substances experts can find traces of metabolites, gases are inert and aren’t absorbed in the blood, they don’t produce chemical reactions in the human organism. They simply drive oxygen out of inhaled air. As a result, the brain stops receiving oxygen, while butane stimulates hallucinations and unusual feelings. Pathologies of blood circulation, visceral organs and even death can be the end of such impacts.
As a rule, gas inhaling is detected according to external physical and psychical signs, accident witnesses’ testimony and photos and videos.
How to prevent?
Despite precisely sniffing as a kind of substance abuse is the most popular addiction among teenagers nowadays, there is almost no research on this addiction, its psychological aspects, causes and consequences. As a doctor, I think it is very hard to create effective preventive measures without such fundamental research.
As a rule, work in three areas is offered now. Firstly, it is the improvement and development of methods to detect gas in the organism. Secondly, it is legislation, legal regulation of the issue. Thirdly, it is work with risk groups. And, fourthly, it is one of the key areas — it is the education of parents so that they are careful about their children and know whom to turn to and where to go if needed.
Moreover, it is very important that all this work be done not only on paper but also in reality, and hundreds of saved lives in our country and tens of hundreds around the world must become its result.