An inhalant is a broad term that is used for a number of household chemicals that may be abused by inhaling them to create an intoxicating effect. Examples of products that may be used in inhalants include:
- Commercial adhesives;
- Lighter fluids;
- Cleaning solvents; and
- Paint products.
Users of inhalants will ingest these types of chemicals in various manners, including:
- Inhaling directly from containers of products, for example, rubber cement or correction fluid;
- Inhaling fumes from plastic bags;
- Sniffing a cloth that is saturated with an intoxicating substance;
- Inhaling directly from an aerosol can; or
- Heating a substance to release intoxicating vapors.
The typical effects of using an inhalant are similar to those of alcohol intoxication.
What Are the Dangers of Inhalants?
An inhalant works by starving an individual’s brain of oxygen. The negative health effects of using an inhalant may include:
- Vomiting; and
- Loss of coordination.
There can also be withdrawal symptoms from using inhalants, including shaking or seizures. In certain cases, use of inhalants may lead to:
- Liver damage;
- Kidney damage;
- Unconsciousness; or
Because of the wide availability of inhalants, young adolescents are typically the most frequent users. There have been studies showing that inhalant use at young ages can lead to:
- Memory loss;
- Learning issues;
- Behavior issues; and
- Other drug use.
What Are Drug Abuse Crimes?
Under criminal laws, a drug abuse crime is a crime that involves an addiction to a controlled substance, an addiction to alcohol, sleep and anti-anxiety medications, or other legal substances. An individual may also become addicted to narcotic pain medications, or opioids, whether they were obtained legitimately with a prescription or illegally by drug dealing.
Crimes that are related to drug abuse may involve the following with illegal or controlled substances:
- Manufacturing; or
Substances that may fall under drug abuse laws include:
- Opium; or
- Other substances listed as controlled under drug laws.
Drug crimes may also involve the use of prescription drugs or other chemical substances. These may be illegally used, for example, distributing the drugs without authority, using them without a prescription or using them in a manner that is not authorized by a valid prescription.
What Drugs or Substances are Covered In the CSA Schedules?
The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the federal government’s effort to regulate the manufacture, possession, dispensing, distribution, and use of certain drugs and other dangerous substances, together referred to as controlled substances. An individual who violates the CSA may face significant civil and criminal penalties.
The CSA divides numerous substances into five categories that are called schedules. A controlled substances is classified according to is characteristics, which includes:
- Its medicinal value;
- Its abuse potential;
- Public safety; and
- Dependency potential.
Placing these substances into categories makes it easier to regulate and deregulate them when necessary. There are many different types of substances and drugs included in the five schedules of the CSA.
For the most part, they fall into a few recognizable categories, including:
- Narcotics: This includes heroin, methadone, morphine, opium, and fentanyl;
- Stimulants: This includes cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines;
- Depressants: This includes GHB, rohypnol, and benzodiazepines;
- Hallucinogens: This includes LSD, peyote, and ecstasy; and
- Other: This includes marijuana, steroids, and inhalants, or household products, such as spray paint, felt markers, or anything that gives off chemical vapors and that may be inhaled for psychoactive effects.
The CSA schedules are ranked from the most dangerous to least dangerous. The most dangerous have the lowest medicinal value and the highest potential for abuse.
The least dangerous have the most medicinal value and the least potential for abuse.
How Does the Law Regulate Inhalants?
Due to the fact that the majority of products that are abused as inhalants are actually common household products, they are not regulated under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Many states, however, have enacted laws that restrict the sales of these types of products to minors.
What Are the Penalties for Inhalant Abuse?
In the majority of states, penalties for inhalant abuse is a misdemeanor. The penalties may range from $25 fines to $10,000 fines and from 30 days or less in jail to up to six years in prison.
There are certain states that specifically include inhalants in their laws that govern driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, including:
- New Jersey;
- Utah; and
Are There Any Defenses to Drug Abuse Crimes?
There may be some defenses available to drug abuse crimes, depending on the exact crime that an individual is charged with as well as the facts of their unique case. One possible available defense to drug use or intoxication is unintentional intoxication.
With this defense, the defendant argues that they were under the influence of drugs unknowingly or unwillingly. For example, the defendant may claim another individual drugged them without their knowledge or that they were forced to take the drugs under the threat of violence or force.
Another defense that may be available is questioning the accuracy of the drug testing equipment that was used by law enforcement, an employer, or a medical crime lab to determine the amount of the substance in an individual’s urine or blood. If measuring devices are not properly calibrated, mistakes can be made.
A defendant may be able to present a defense if they contacted authorities to obtain help for themselves or for another individual who was overdosing on drugs. In this type of situation, the drug overdose immunity defense, which prohibits the arrest of someone seeking medical attention for an overdose, may apply.
Another category of laws, the Good Samaritan laws, or 911 drug immunity laws, have been enacted in the majority of states in response to the ongoing epidemic of deaths from overdoses of opioid painkillers, such as:
- Oxycodone and Oxycontin;
- Heroin; and
- Illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
There are forty states as well as the District of Columbia that have enacted some form of this law to encourage individuals to seek medical attention for an overdose or for follow-up care after the administration of naloxone. These types of laws generally provide an individual with immunity from arrest, criminal charges, or criminal prosecution. This applies to certain crimes that involve the possession and use of a controlled substance or possession of drug paraphernalia when an individual who has overdosed on an opiate, or has observed another individual having an overdose calls 911 or seeks medical attention.
The laws of different states may also provide immunity from violations of pretrial, probation, or parole conditions and violations of protection or restraining orders for the same types of crimes also for the same types of reasons.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you have been charged with the use, sale, or illegal possession of an inhalant, it is important to consult with a drug lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer can advise you of the laws in your state governing inhalants.
It is especially important to consult with a lawyer if you reside in one of the states where inhalants are included in driving under the influence laws, as these may have severe consequences, both for your criminal record and your ability to drive. Your lawyer will be able to determine if any defenses are available in your case and present them on your behalf.
In some instances, your lawyer will be able to negotiate with the prosecution for a reduction in your charges, or even a dismissal.