How Many Deaths Occur Annually in the U.S. and
What Inhalants are involved?
It was once estimated there were approximately 125 deaths annually in the U.S. attributed to inhalants. It has also been stated that there is no data available to identify this number. These two statements are incorrect. Our research shows there are at least 500+ inhalant deaths in the U.S. each year which are never publicized; and inhalant deaths can be obtained from Medical Examiner data. This data can be requested directly from Medical Examiner offices if not available in Medical Examiner Annual Reports. The chemical involved along with the gender and age of the individual can also be identified.
Some Medical Examiner Annual Reports will include inhalant deaths in the “Accidental Drug Overdose – inhalant” group, yet are most often listed as “Other” due to the low numbers in relation to illicit drug overdoses. If there is a specific increasing trend of inhalant deaths in a given year, that number and situation will likely be identified. Medical Examiner Offices can be contacted to request inhalant data, and most are accommodating. Inhalant deaths usually involve an autopsy to determine the cause of death and identify the chemical(s) involved.
Additional inhalant death information can be obtained from articles discussing an increasing inhalant use problem in a specific locale. This process of collecting data does take time and effort, but these numbers are available. To date, Medical Examiner Data has been provided for Virginia, Florida, California (Los Angeles and San Diego Counties), Pennsylvania, and Texas (Travis County). A combined 1109 inhalant deaths (2007-2019) were identified with 34 noted in 2007. By 2017, this annual number increased to 134 deaths with several years over the 100 value. The notion that inhalant use in the U.S. is decreasing is questionable when data like this is reviewed. We are actively requesting and compiling this data from other states
Difluoroethane “Dusters” Lead Inhalant
Deaths in Specific Geographic Areas
Medical Examiner inhalant death data collected from Virginia, Florida, California (Los Angeles and San Diego Counties), Pennsylvania (17 Counties), and Texas (Travis County) for the years 2007 – 2019 indicates that Difluoroethane (DEF) was the inhalant most often identified in the 1109 inhalant deaths provided. From these 1109 inhalant death numbers, over half (648 deaths) were from Difluoroethane (DFE) use. There were 352 DFE deaths in Florida, 103 in Virginia, 75 in Los Angeles County, 56 in San Diego County, 53 in the seventeen counties of Pennsylvania, and 9 in Travis County, Texas. Helium was the inhalant involved in the second largest number of deaths from these same geographic areas. There were 273 Helium deaths identified, with 129 in Florida, 107 in Los Angeles County, and 37 in the seventeen counties of Pennsylvania. It is clear that Difluoroethane (contained in Duster electronic device cleaners) is the “inhalant of choice” in these specific locations. These deaths bring into question the effectiveness of the alleged “bitterant” added to duster products in 2006, since these deaths occurred in the years that follow that additive.
Los Angeles County, CA – Inhalant Death Data Summary
Medical Examiner inhalant death data for Los Angeles County is provided for 2007 – 2019 (thru Oct. 19). This data includes the “Year” of death, “Gender,” “Age,” “Ethnicity” and “Chemical” involved for all individuals. There were 218 inhalant deaths identified in LA County during the 2007 – 2019 period. The three main inhalants involved were “Difluoroethane” (75 deaths), “Helium” (107 deaths), and “Nitrous Oxide” (21 deaths). The year with the largest number of inhalant deaths was “2010” (28 deaths), followed by “2013” and “2015” with 24 deaths each, then “2012” with 22 deaths. There doesn’t appear to be any specific decline in the number of inhalant deaths during this period of time.
“Caucasians” are the leading “Ethnic” group to die from the inhalant use followed by “Hispanics.” There were 136 “Caucasian” deaths and 50 “Hispanic” deaths. Three times as many “males” (170 deaths) die from inhalants in LA County than do “females (49 deaths). The largest age group of “male inhalant deaths” is the “20-29 years” with 51 deaths, followed by the “30-39 year” group listing 46 deaths. There were 10 “male” inhalant deaths under the age of 19 years with the youngest being 15 years old. Males of all ages appear to abuse inhalants to a level which can cause death.
The largest number of “female” inhalant deaths are also from the “20-29 year” group with 15 deaths listed. The “30-39 year” group is the second largest with 12 deaths, and then the “50+ year” group indicating 10 deaths. There were 5 female inhalant deaths under the age of 19 years with the youngest being 13 years old. As with the male population, inhalant use is evident with female individuals of all ages.
San Diego County, CA – Inhalant Death Data Summary
The 72 Medical Examiner identified inhalant deaths for San Diego County encompass 2007 – 2017. “Difluoroethane” is the inhalant indicated in the largest number of deaths (56 deaths), with “Nitrous Oxide” second (7 deaths). The majority of these deaths were “Caucasians” (5 deaths), with 3 indicated as “Hispanic,” 3 “Black,” and 1 “Native American.” The largest number of these inhalant deaths were “males” in the “30-39 year” group (18 deaths), followed by the “20-29 year” and “40-49 year” groups both with 10 deaths each. There were 13 “female” inhalant deaths listed with the majority being in the “40-49 year” old group (8 deaths). There were no inhalant deaths from either gender under the age of 19 years.
Virginia – Inhalant Death Data Summary
The 128 Medical Examiner inhalant deaths for the state of Virginia encompass the years 2007 – 2018. This data was not provided by “Year” for the categories “Chemicals,” “Gender,” “Age,” and “Ethnicity.” Therefore, the data is not charted in the same format as the other geographic areas.
“Difluoroethane” was again the inhalant identified in the largest number of deaths in Virginia. There is no other inhalant that is even close to that number. The largest number of inhalant deaths occurred in “2017” (18 deaths), with “2016” identifying 16 deaths, and “2018” having 14 deaths. The number of inhalant deaths appear to be on the rise in San Diego County.
The largest number of inhalant deaths by “Ethnicity” are “Caucasian” (117 deaths). “Male” inhalant deaths (88 deaths) far exceed “females” (40 deaths), with the majority being from the “25-34 year” group (41 deaths). The second largest number of inhalant deaths are from the “35-44 year” group (38 deaths), followed by the “45-54 year” group (23 deaths). There were 10 inhalant deaths under the age of 20 years old.
Florida – Inhalant Death Data Summary
The Medical Examiner inhalant deaths for the state of Florida are reported for the years 2007 – 2018. This data only provides deaths by “Chemical” for each “Year.” There have been 572 inhalant deaths identified for this period of time, beginning with only 14 in 2007. This total increased rapidly in the years that followed, peaking at 74 deaths in 2015. Current totals remain over 50 deaths annually.
“Difluoroethane” is again, the inhalant identified in the largest number of deaths (352 deaths) for this time period. There were only 8 Difluoroethane deaths identified in in Florida in 2007. That number has doubled each successive year with the average number of Difluoroethane deaths in Florida at this time, in the 50s annually.
“Helium” is indicated as the inhalant identified in the second largest number of deaths (129 deaths), with “Nitrous Oxide” having the third largest number of deaths identified (18 deaths). Florida Medical Examiners did group less often identified inhalants as “Other” from 2007 – 2012 and transitioned this group to “Hydrocarbons” in 2013 – 2018. It is difficult to address the problem of inhalant abuse when chemicals are grouped in this manner. Although the “Other” and “Hydrocarbons” groups contain relatively large inhalant death totals, the actual chemicals/products are not identified and cannot be compared.
Pennsylvania – Inhalant Death Data Summary
The Pennsylvania State inhalant death information was provided by 17 of the 70 County Medical Examiner offices for the years 2007 – 2019. Many of these offices indicated that their files were not in a computer system until 2012, and therefore could not provide data prior to that year. Although some offices did provide information regarding “Ethnicity,” “Gender,” and “Age” of inhalant deaths, this was not consistent throughout the collection process. Therefore, numbers for all categories will not show equivalent values. Basically, the information provided will be charted in the format it was received.
There were 102 inhalant deaths identified in the 17 Pennsylvania counties participating in this data collection. “Difluoroethane” is the inhalant involved in the largest number of deaths (53 deaths,) with “Helium” being the second largest (37 deaths). The remaining chemicals involved were at much lower values and therefore not discussed.
There were three times as many “male” inhalant deaths (50) as there were “female” (17 deaths), and the largest number of inhalant deaths from the “Total” data provided, were from the “30-39 year” age group. Again, inhalant abuse is evident in all age groups, yet the majority of these deaths are from individuals over the age of 30 years old and well into their 50s. There were 4 inhalant deaths identified under the age of 19 years old.
Travis County, TX – Inhalant Death Data Summary
Travis County, Texas, is the only data collected from this state at this time. The Medical Examiner inhalant death data was provided for the years 2007 – 2018. There were 16 inhalant deaths in Travis County during this period of time, with the majority of them identifying Difluoroethane as the inhalant (9 deaths). The remaining deaths involved Freon, Nitrous Oxide, and Chlorodifluoroethane. These deaths began in 2009 and continued at to remain at low levels in the years that followed.
Summary of Inhalant Deaths From the Data Provided
1. Deaths due to inhalant abuse are most prevalent in individuals between the age of 20 and 50 years.
2. Males are three to four times more prone to inhalant death than are females.
3. The vast majority of individuals dying from inhalant use are Caucasian, although Hispanics, Asians African Americans and Pacific Islanders are also represented.
4. Difluoroethane is by far the major contributor to inhalant deaths in the geographic areas provided.
5. The youngest inhalant death identified from this data was under the age of 9 years and the oldest was 80 years of age.
6. There were 29 inhalant deaths in individuals under the age of 19 years, which indicates that inhalant use is still popular with teens, but at a lower level than adults.