Reaching Out Through Her Pain
Bowie Resident Describes Dangers of 'Huffing,' Which Killed Her Son
Thursday, December 6, 2007; Page PG05
Janna Zuber's 16-year-old son, Justin, died in 2002 after inhaling the air freshener in his dorm at a Pennsylvania boarding school.
For the past two years, Zuber, a Bowie resident, has been traveling throughout Maryland to educate parents about the potential dangers of such household products, as part of a personal campaign to help save other young lives.
On Nov. 27, Zuber brought her message to the Bowie High School Parent Teacher Student Organization, where she spoke to about 20 members. Describing her son as "my good kid" and a "zany soul," Zuber said she had spoken with Justin about the dangers of drug use but did not know about the practice of "huffing," or inhaling a substance through a soaked rag, until his death.
More than 1,000 products that can be found in the average home can be deadly when inhaled, including glue, refrigerant, spray paint and cooking sprays, according to the Alliance for Consumer Education, an organization that focuses on inhalant abuse, disease and poison prevention.
After Justin died, Zuber said she initially had no inclination to get involved with inhalant abuse prevention efforts. But after her daughter began researching the issue for a school project two years ago, she started to reach out via the Internet to other parents whose children had been affected by inhalant abuse.
"Our common swan song is, 'I didn't know,' " Zuber said. "In the future, if a child chooses [to abuse inhalants], even after he's been talked to by his parents, at least that parent won't suffer from that same guilt."
The death of another Bowie teenager, Erica Knoll, 16, who died Nov. 1, 2005, after inhaling Dust-Off, a cleaning agent, prompted Zuber to speak to the Bowie parents. After Knoll's death, PTSO President Mary Nusser asked Zuber to speak at the school.
"My heart broke for that family," Zuber said.
Zuber said her work has included successfully lobbying the Giant and Stop and Shop grocery stores to place brochures with information on inhalants at their pharmacies. The brochures, produced by the Alliance for Consumer Education, will soon be on the counters. After the holidays, she hopes to get other pharmacies on board, she said.
In April, the state legislature passed "Mackenzie's Law," named after Avin Mackenzie Glamp, 15, of Crofton, who died from using an inhalant. The law requires Maryland public schools to educate students on the dangers of inhalant abuse.
In Prince George's County public schools, students receive mandatory drug education in their health classes, which includes a discussion of inhalants, said county schools spokesman John White. The school system is also working with the county Department of Health to publish a brochure for parents on the dangers of inhalants.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 29.2 percent of eighth-graders have admitted to using inhalants, and, by 12th grade, 51.2 percent of teens had huffed at least once.
Zuber told the group she is willing to speak to any community or school groups that are interested in learning about the issue. She can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.