“His organ’s were starting to liquify — they were turning to mush.”

I’ll never forget the horrific feeling and immediate shock that set in after hearing these words about my friend’s younger brother.

The news about how our 13-year-old friend, Kevin, really died rocked our world in about 1992.

His older brother knew he had started huffing gas, because Kevin would come home and tell him about it.

From the beginning, his sibling advised him against it and would chew him out over it, but Kevin wouldn’t stop. Even his childhood circle of friends knew he had been huffing gas and watching his exuberant personality dissipate they, too, told him he needed to stop.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when law enforcement officers were coming into schools teaching us DARE programs, the emphasis was heavy on alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine. The only concept we had of how deadly inhalants could be were bright green Mr. Yuk stickers from Poison Control with skull and crossbones that were voluntarily placed on products by adults.

But we never openly talked about it, and none of us had a clue as to where to go to get help.

One day, Kevin was standing outside playing hacky sack with friends when he just fell over, hitting his head on the cement. He died instantly — nobody could resuscitate him, and until the autopsy came back, we all thought he had died from hitting his head just right.

Instead, we later found out to our horror that his body had suffered major organ failure from months of inhaling the fumes from open gasoline cans.

Our friend had paid the ultimate price for those brief, hallucinogenic highs.

We had already buried our friend, but the grief was renewed and many of us recounted haunting dreams about him for years. I never really forgot about Kevin, but he hadn’t been on my mind for years until one day my son, who was about 9 years old at the time, came home from helping a friend do some yard work down the road. After several minutes inside, he suddenly said, “Hey mom. You know what’s really weird?” To which I replied, “What?”

“Kolby likes the smell of gas.”

I had to push past a wave of memories so I could focus on now. What followed was a series of questions and answers, as well as a heavy hearted talk I never thought I would be having with my 9-year-old son.

I’m grateful that he is comfortable enough to talk with me about anything.

The truth is, it’s never too early to educate young ones about the dangers associated with inhaling. Experts say children age 12 to 17 will often be the first to try inhalants because they know the high is over quick, and those products are easier for them to get their hands on.

It’s not just youth who are impacted. As trends show economically poor areas having higher rates of inhalant abuse than their wealthy counterparts, the risk here is high for people of all ages seeking inhalant highs as a cheap alternative to alcohol or other substances.

And after autopsy results of a Fruitland woman who drowned in June indicated the drowning was associated with using electronic duster, commonly known as Dust-Off, Payette County Coroner Keith Schuller urges people to be aware of the problem, saying it has not gone away, rather it seems to keep going.

I would like to express my gratitude to Schuller for bringing this to my awareness, and for helping provide information for the article in today’s paper on the dangers of huffing.

Knowing the truth doesn’t make anything easier — it didn’t ease the grief for Kevin’s friends and family, nor did it lighten the load for Tonya Goodman’s family.

As a community, we must arm ourselves with education. We must be vigilant and pay attention. We must seek professional medical attention for those struggling with this type of substance abuse before they suffer severe or permanent damage to their brain, heart and other organs or, even, lose their life over it. And we must keep having conversations — even the ones that seem too difficult.

Leslie Thompson is the editor at The Argus Observer. She can be reached at (541) 823-4818 or by emailing lesliet@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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