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Federally-funded program to tackle problem of inhalant abuse

Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2001

BETHEL (AP) -- A federal grant is funding the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. Inhalant Intervention Project to provide long-term treatment for inhalant abusers.

The project will operate a residential inhalant treatment center at the Kasigulee subdivision in Bethel. The staff expects the center's official opening to coincide with the annual Inhalant Abuse Prevention Conference, scheduled for late August in Bethel, said Jim Henkleman, statewide outreach coordinator for the project.

The center will be able to accommodate 16 young adults, ages 10 to 17, for up to four months. The program will focus on getting the young people off inhalants, as well as family and individual therapy.

The center's staff, in anticipation of the opening, has toured similar treatment centers near reservations in South Dakota, Texas and New Mexico. The centers are the only ones in the United States that operate exclusively for inhalant abuse.

Villages are dry in the Bethel area but for some residents inhalants offers a cheap way to get high. Gasoline still seems to be the inhalant of choice, though people have been known to use products, such as mouthwash and hairspray, that have alcohol in them.

When abusers are high, their eyes are half-closed, their speech is slurred and they are slow to respond, according to Alaska State Troopers in Bethel. Sometimes troopers see a ring around abusers' mouths from where they wrapped their lips around an open gas can to inhale the fumes.

Users can be numb to pain and aren't affected by pepper spray, said Sgt. Dan Donaldson, whose troopers are often called out to villages, sometimes to resuscitate an unconscious user.

The program has also launched a statewide outreach effort to educate school workers, social service workers, clinic workers and others about the problem. Henkleman said he hopes to have the education camps completed in at least four villages before the center opens. Camps also will be conducted in other regions of the state including Copper Center, Sitka and Nome.

''We want to get as many community members involved in the healing process as we can,'' he said.



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