I must stress that although I introduced the inhalant legislation as a 'Class B Misdemeanor,' it is not my hope or intention to lock up young children and teen-agers for abusing inhalants. My intention was to get the conversation started about this serious problem. The other venue, as far as mandatory sanctions, would be a 'violation' similar to minor consuming laws, which has a maximum $300 fine.
I would like to respond to your editorial from Sunday, Feb. 25 regarding legislation that I am sponsoring this session addressing inhalant abuse or "huffing."
House Bill 114, "An Act relating to the abuse of inhalants," targets a problem that has been neglected for many years. I introduced this legislation after listening to the concerns of many Alaskans who work with young people, including public safety officials who feel they have no tool to deal with individuals who are abusing inhalants.
The problem of inhalant abuse is not new. Unlike alcoholism or drug abuse, inhalant abuse is also seldom talked about or addressed. This is a problem that afflicts children and adults alike, from Ketchikan to Barrow, in rural communities and urban centers.
It is time that Alaska step up to the plate in terms of addressing it. Twenty-four states have statutes in place addressing the problem of inhalants. The neurological and physical damage that inhalants inflict on users are frightening. A huffer can die the first, 10th or hundredth time a product is misused. Causes of death range from cardiac arrest to suffocation. Unlike other substances where recovery is possible, the damage done to the organs in the body and the brain are irreparable.
Statistics indicate that a large percentage of elementary school-age children as well as adolescents and adults experimented with, or are likely to experiment with inhalants. More than 70 percent of chronic substance abusers who use marijuana, crack cocaine and other illegal drugs began with inhalants. A 1993 study by the Indian Health Service in Alaska found that a 19-year-old with a chronic history of inhalant abuse who suffers significant brain or organic damage will cost society $1.4 million over a lifetime of treatment, medical care, social services, law enforcement and court appearances.
In preparing for the bill, I have worked closely with various state agencies that have a stake in this legislation. I must stress that although I introduced the inhalant legislation as a "Class B Misdemeanor," it is not my hope or intention to lock up young children and teen-agers for abusing inhalants. My intention was to get the conversation started about this serious problem. The other venue, as far as mandatory sanctions, would be a "violation" similar to minor consuming laws, which has a maximum $300 fine. I anticipate that this bill will more likely be reduced to stipulate a violation, with suspended imposition of sentence if the violator opts for treatment.
Intervention and treatment for the abuse of inhalants is the ultimate goal of this legislation and House Bill 114 is a means to that end. This legislation is a work in progress, and through continued discussion and exchange of ideas, I am confident we will end up with a tool that will give leverage in the most efficient and cost-effective way to public safety officials, medical providers, social service workers, and families in seeking measures to address this problem that devastates Alaskan communities.
Rep. Mary Kapsner represents District 39 in the Alaska House.