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Adolescent inhalant abuse leads to other drug use and impaired growth; implications for diagnosis.

OBJECTIVE: Abuse of inhalants containing the volatile solvent toluene is a significant public health issue, especially for adolescent and Indigenous communities. Adolescent inhalant abuse can lead to chronic health issues and may initiate a trajectory towards further drug use. Identification of at-risk individuals is difficult and diagnostic tools are limited primarily to measurement of serum toluene. Our objective was to identify the effects of adolescent inhalant abuse on subsequent drug use and growth parameters, and to test the predictive power of growth parameters as a diagnostic measure for inhalant abuse.

METHODS: We retrospectively analysed drug use and growth data from 118 Indigenous males; 86 chronically sniffed petrol as adolescents.

RESULTS: Petrol sniffing was the earliest drug used (mean 13 years) and increased the likelihood and earlier use of other drugs. Petrol sniffing significantly impaired height and weight and was associated with meeting 'failure to thrive' criteria; growth diagnostically out-performed serum toluene.

CONCLUSIONS: Adolescent inhalant abuse increases the risk for subsequent and earlier drug use. It also impairs growth such that individuals meet 'failure to thrive' criteria, representing an improved diagnostic model for inhalant abuse. Implications for Public Health: Improved diagnosis of adolescent inhalant abuse may lead to earlier detection and enhanced health outcomes.

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