Teens family thought he had broken inhaling habit
Six months ago, Carol Heck caught her grandson, Jordan H. Gray, inhaling gasoline fumes in an attempt to get high.
He promised her he'd never do it again.
He broke that promise on Tuesday afternoon and it cost him his life.
Gray, 15, of Bay City, fell victim to what substance abuse professionals refer to as a non-mainstream killer - a practice known as "huffing," in which volatile, intoxicating substances are inhaled.
Gray, a student at Wenona Center Alternative School, 312 S. DeWitt St., was killed, and a friend, David Commire, 14, also of Bay City, a student at Central High School, was critically burned when the gasoline fumes they were inhaling ignited.
"When we caught him, I felt it was a big enough problem, so he started meeting with a counselor," Heck said this morning. "We got rid of everything that could hold gas so the temptation wouldn't be there.
"We were doing everything we could."
Heck described her grandson as a "good kid" who was dealing with a lot of anger, as well as depression since his mother died five years ago and his younger brother was diagnosed with cancer.
Gray had been living with Heck.
"Over the last month, thanks to some medication he was taking, Jordan got more focused and carefree. He was really coming around," said Heck, who added that she continued to remind her grandson about the dangers of huffing.
"He swore to me again, just a week ago, that he'd never do it again," Heck said. "This just seems like a fluke thing."
Goldie Wood, project director for Bay County Neighborhood Resources Center, a substance abuse prevention program at 301 N. Farragut St., said the effects of huffing are very unpredictable.
"The thing about inhalants is that you might use them for three years or just one day and it doesn't matter; because of the way the poisons react in your body, you could die at any time," Wood said.
This phenomenon is called "sudden sniffing death," according to Janine Kravets, prevention activities coordinator for Bay Area Social Intervention Service Inc., a substance abuse, treatment and prevention agency at 515 Adams St.
"A person can die at any time from huffing because your body reacts differently on a particular day. There is no cumulative effect," Kravets said.
Wood and Kravets said huffing is mostly done by youths in grades 6-8, most likely because the intoxicants are products that are inexpensive and easily accessible.
Some common inhalants, besides gasoline, include paint thinner, glue, aerosols, nail polish, cleaning products and even food products like whipped cream that come in pressurized canisters.
"You can go into any gas station or store and buy these things and they even give you the bag used for huffing," said Wood.
"Imagine something that takes the paint off your table in two minutes, and then imagine inhaling that and what damage it does to the body," added Kravets.
Inhalants can cause permanent damage to bone marrow and all major organs, as well as nerve damage, Kravets said.
Wood said she is discouraged by statistics that indicate use of inhalants by Bay County youths is well above the national average.
According to a 2002 study conducted by Western Michigan University, 6.9 percent of Bay County eighth-graders had used inhalants in the past 30 days. The national average was 1.7 percent.
And 20.6 percent of eighth-graders said they had used inhalants at least once in their lives. The national average was 13 percent.
Statistics showed that those percentages decreased as teenagers got older. Of the high school seniors surveyed, only 2.8 percent said they had used inhalants in the past 30 days.
"Actually, by the time they get to 10th grade or 12th grade, kids who use inhalants are shunned," Wood said. "By then, they think it's dumb or are on to other things, like marijuana or alcohol."
"The thing about inhalants is that you don't hear a lot about them," Kravets said. "It's not like kids go to parties and pass around the gasoline can like a joint. It's less social than drugs like pot or alcohol."
Brian J. DuFresne, principal at Wenona Center, said crisis counselors were at the school today to meet with students. He described huffing as "an underground thing."
"It's not mainstream. You don't hear a lot about kids huffing, but, obviously, it's out there and they are doing it.
"As a community, we need to step up and make parents aware that this kind of thing is going on," DuFresne said.
Heck said even she was only vaguely aware of huffing before catching her grandson in the act.
"You know it goes on in the world, but never think it's going to happen to you," she said. "I just want to tell these kids, 'No, no, no. This is a horrible thing and don't take these chances."'