Teens Organize Campaign Against Whippets
Asking Tribal Leaders to Ban or Control CO2 Canisters
By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune
A group of Yurok youth organized research that culminated with a tribal ordinance that, if passed, would ban the sale and use of CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O) cartridges on the Yurok Reservation. They hope the Hoopa Tribe will consider passing a similar law.
Although the law was not passed by the Yurok Tribal Council, the youth have not stopped their efforts. They speak at local schools and hand out pamphlets and swag to raise awareness about the dangerous drug.
Classified as an inhalant, whippets come in the form of small CO2 cartridges intended for whipped cream canisters or B-b guns. Similar canisters containing nitrous oxide are available too. It’s compressed air. CO2, or carbon dioxide, is an odorless, colorless gas emitted naturally as we exhale. CO2 is also produced by burning coal and oil. It’s used to make sodas fizzy and, in some cases to make kids dizzy. Nitrous oxide is another gas, sometimes used in concentrated form to anesthetize a patient undergoing a dental procedure.
“More than 17 percent of first-time users die,” the group said during a presentation they gave to the Yurok Tribal Council last year as they listed dangers. “Headache, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, nose bleeds, severe mood swings, liver, lung, and kidney damage, hepatitis, dangerous chemical imbalances in the body, lack of coordination, loss of appetite, decreases in Heart and Respiratory rates, peripheral neuropathy from long-term use and death.
The statistics are staggering. According to the Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Magazine, surveys show that use of inhalants surpasses use of marijuana among middle-school students. A survey conducted in 2008 by the federal
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found 12 and 13-year-olds were more likely to have used inhalants than marijuana and prescription drugs.
About 17 percent of seventh-graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District reported abusing inhalants, according to the 2007 California Healthy Kids Survey. This rate was more than twice the statewide average of eight percent. By comparison, only 14 percent of the Los Angeles students said they had used marijuana.
“Youth do whippets because they think it’s fun,” the youth group said during their presentation. “It’s a misconception, or illusion that they receive an adrenaline rush and that it’s harmless.”
Studies to measure the problem in Klamath-Trinity communities have not been done, but most can attest to seeing the empty canisters alongside the road, at campgrounds and near rivers and creeks. Several years ago school administrators reported finding the canisters on campus and after the lights came on at school dances. School officials currently report that the problem has not been as apparent in recent years.
“It’s a worldwide epidemic,” the group said. “It’s here. It’s on our reservations, it’s in our schools and it’s in our homes.”
In response to school and law enforcement agency complaints, The California State Legislature passed a bill that banned the sale or distribution of ‘whippets’ to anyone under 18 (2009 AB1015).
Although there was crackdown on the sale of compressed air products they are still accessible at many local stores. Canisters can be purchased for as little as .50 cents to $2 each at gas stations, sporting goods stores, grocery stores, and even at the Tent Man in Hoopa.
Youth participating in this project with the support and direction of Monique Sonoquie and the Yurok Youth Leadership Training Project: Ellen Sanders-Raigosa, Diza Baldy, Kah’nee’ta Lewis, Travis Perry, Robert Dorgan, Raffey James and Dubby Lewis.