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One drug for the novice, and one drug for the hard-core

July 21, 2009 |  6:01 am

Inhalants and propofol. The two would seem to have little in common, but both were profiled recently in the L.A. Times. One portrait offers a glimpse into middle-school life; the other portrait provides a glimpse into a medical world reliant on pharmaceuticals. Together, they begin to paint a picture of drug use in America.

Whippet In the first story, staff writer Carla Rivera documents rising concern about inhalant use among local middle school students: Los Angeles youths' nitrous oxide use has adults taking action

Some parents are particularly worried about whippets -- small containers of nitrous oxide -- but obviously inhalant use doesn't stop there. From that story: "Recently, three students at Madison Middle School in North Hollywood who allegedly had been abusing inhalants were hospitalized. At Roosevelt High, a student who had allegedly been huffing inhalants lost consciousness and had to be resuscitated."

For a closer look at inhalants, here are some numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It states: "Inhalants were the most frequently reported class of illicit drugs used in the past year among adolescents aged 12 or 13 (3.4 and 4.8 percent, respectively)."

That may not be surprising. Inhalants are common -- easily obtainable by 12- and 13-year-olds whose access to other drugs is often limited.

But, of note, the choice of inhalant seems to be affected by gender.

"Combined data from 2002 to 2005 indicate that recent female inhalant initiates aged 12 to 17 were more likely than their male counterparts to have used glue, shoe polish, or toluene; spray paints; aerosol sprays other than spray paints; correction fluid, degreaser, or cleaning fluid; and amyl nitrite, 'poppers,' locker room odorizers, or 'rush.' Recent male inhalant initiates were more likely than their female counterparts to have used nitrous oxide or whippets." Here's that breakdown.

The  cheap and easy high of inhalants can be had not just by the traditional model-airplane glue but also via cooking sprays, nail polish remover, markers and more. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition lists an array of potential problems.

PropofolIn the second story, staffers Jeff Gottlieb and Rong-Gong Lin II profile the anesthetic recently linked to Michael Jackson: Diprivan, the drug found in Michael Jackson's home, may be more tightly restricted.

From that story: "Also known by the generic name propofol, the drug is among the most widely used general anesthetics in the U.S. Its purpose is to quickly knock out patients or make them semi-conscious during uncomfortable procedures, such as colonoscopies. The drug can be so dangerous that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says only those trained in general anesthesia should administer it."

The story also notes: "Diprivan is not a drug people can buy on the street. Someone would have to take it from a hospital, surgery center or other medical facility or somehow obtain it from a distributor or manufacturer." And, it points out, most abuse occurs among doctors and other medical workers.

An account of the problem from Anesthesiology News begins:

"One addict fell asleep at his desk so often that his lolling forehead became a perpetual bruise. Another was so desperate for a fix that he started trolling through sharps bins for discarded needles with traces of drug to inject. The addicts were two doctors, an anesthesiologist and a family physician. Their drug of choice: propofol. If that’s surprising, consider this: One in five academic anesthesiology training programs reported at least one case of abuse by physicians or other healthcare workers over the past decade, new research shows. The incidence of propofol abuse has risen fivefold over the last 10 years."

Two drugs. Two types of users. Two worlds. ... One culture.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: A whippets, at top, is a small canister of nitrous oxide; propofol, below, is an anesthetic.

Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times (top); Getty Images (below)