Mom who lost son to 'huffing' battles latest trend: AC chemicals

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) – A woman whose son died the first time he tried "huffing" now works to help other parents avoid the pain she's endured.

Teens across the country are breaking into air condition units to inhale the chemicals used to cool homes, offices and businesses. But the habit could be fatal.

"You could die on the first try," said Mona Casey.

Two weeks after Casey's 15-year-old son Charles learned to huff, he was found dead in a neighbor's yard.

"We had no idea that such danger was so easily accessible," she said.

One of the difficulties for parents in stopping the behavior is that the evidence doesn't last long.

"The effects of refrigerant had already dissipated so there was no clue or any indication to us that he was up to no good that day," Casey said.

Teens often ignore how dangerous household substances can be, said Amy Bass, who works in prevention at Compass Behavioral Health Care.

"Teens among themselves have educated each other that you can get high off of this, or you can get high off of that," she said.

"Somebody says 'Hey, smell this, you get a buzz.' They don't know how dangerous it is. It can kill them instantaneously."

The chemicals and the way they're used are life-threatening.

A bag can capture the coolant from an air conditioning unit. If the user passes out with the bag on their head, they can die from heart failure, brain damage or suffocation.

Casey channeled her grief into action with the creation of UPROAR: United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerant. The group asks states to require new air conditioning units be installed with hardware to block access to inhalants.

"Once it's secured into place, the key is removed and this remains on the unit and then it just spins," said Brett Wright, president of D and H Air Conditioning.

He showed how locking caps prevent anyone without the key from getting Freon out of an air conditioning unit.  He also pointed out how regular caps are similar to those used on tire valves.

"So this simply goes back on.  However, there's no protection of the unit.  This (locking cap) is the new device that keeps it secure.  Once this is put on, as you can see, you can't take it off," Wright said.

The locking caps and a conversation with your teen can make a powerful defense against another tragedy.

"Parents really need to be talking to their kids.  They need to educate themselves, they need to have that open line of communication," Bass said.

"If your child dies on the first use, which many of them have, it will be too late then," Casey said.

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