I am hearing that younger and younger children are ending up in the hospital or dying from using inhalants. I definitely worry about my twin sons, who are currently in fourth grade. Should I be concerned? -- Worried


You are right to be concerned. Inhalants are now being used by younger and younger children. According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, by the time a student reaches eighth grade, one in five will have used inhalants. Recent data from a national survey on drug use shows that in the past two years, inhalant abuse has increased in sixth- and eighth-graders. Inhalants are usually the first substance a young person experiments with, especially among 12- and 13-year-olds. More kids "huff" than do any other illicit substance in this age group.

The first step for parents in preventing and retarding the experimentation and abuse of inhalants by their children is educating themselves about inhalants. Inhalants are legal, everyday products thathave a useful purpose but can be misused. Parents also need to know the deadly effects the poisons in these products have on the body when they are inhaled, or "huffed." They can easily learn about the thousands of products that are inhalants and their dangers, as well as treatment for inhalant abuse, by visiting the NIPC website at www.inhalants.org.

The next step is for parents to talk to their children about inhalants. On the NIPC website, they will find age-appropriate guidelines under "Tips for Teachers" in the site map.