What are Chemical Inhalants?
Inhalants are a chemically diverse group of psychoactive substances composed of organic solvents and volatile substances. They commonly found in more than 1,000 household products, such as glues, hair spray, air fresheners, lighter fluid, and paint products. While not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act, many states have placed restrictions on the sale of these products. Chemical inhalants, such as methyl ethyl ketone, toluene and butane, can cause brain damage, loss of consciousness, nausea and death—often with the first use.

What is inhalant abuse?
People who abuse inhalants use them because they are capable of producing a quick and generally pleasurable sensory experience, or “high,” with rapid gratification and minimal “hangover” symptoms. Inhaled substances are widely available, convenient, inexpensive, easily concealed, and legal for specific intended uses and easily misused by abusers.

Inhalant abuse is referred to in slang terms such as glue sniffing, snorting, huffing, glading, and dusting. Product fumes are usually inhaled through the mouth (huffing) or nose (sniffing or snorting) from the original container. Abusers may also inhale vapors from a chemical-saturated rag held to the face or stuffed in the mouth, which is also called huffing. Some aerosols are sprayed directly into the mouth or nose, and volatile solvents can be applied onto the nasal areas or a nearby surface such as fingernails or a shirt collar or cuff and then inhaled.

The immediate effects of inhalant abuse are similar to the early stages of anesthesia use. The inhalant user feels an initial stimulating “rush,” then become light-headed, excitable, and prone to impulsive behavior. Intoxication lasts only a few minutes but can be extended for several hours by breathing inhalants repeatedly. Slurred speech, dizziness, unsteady and uncoordinated gait, and disorientation occur as the inhalant dose increases.

New York Laws about Inhalant Abuse
Inhalant abuse is illegal in New York. Under New York Public Health Law §3380, it is a crime to use, possess, or sell or distribute chemical inhalants in order to abuse them. The law bans the use or sale of glue, cement, and other specified chemical compounds for the purposes of abuse. It is a crime to use chemical inhalants to cause intoxication, inebriation, excitement, stupefaction or dulling of the brain or nervous system. This law does not apply to inhaling anesthesia for medical or dental purposes or sales of chemical inhalants for industrial use.

If a person abuses or possesses chemical inhalants for abuse in New York, they may be subject to a fine up to $50 and a sentence of up to 5 days in jail, or both. If a person sells chemical inhalants in New York for the purpose of abuse, they may be subject to a fine of between $500 and $1,000, up to 1 year in prison, or both.

It is important to understand that the abuse of chemical inhalants produces effects similar to those observed with heavy alcohol use such as staggering and slurred speech. The abuse of chemical inhalants also causes Nystagmus, which is an involuntary jerking of the eye as it gazes to the side. Because the brain and nerve centers that control eye movement are affected by alcohol or other drugs, the eye movements of Nystagmus are associated with impairment by both alcohol and chemical inhalants.

The Case of People v. Litto
Although the abuse of chemical inhalants produces physical effects similar to those of heavy alcohol drinking, New York courts have ruled that “intoxication” under the common law DWI statute only applies to the impairment produced by drinking alcohol.

This was shown by the decision of the New York Court of Appeals in the case of People v. Litto. The case involved Vincent Litto, who inhaled a mouthful of the aerosol Dust-Off while driving with three 13-year-olds in the car. Less than a minute later, Litto’s car veered into oncoming traffic and smashed into another car carrying four people, one of whom was killed.

The court held that the common law DWI statute, New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192(3), only applies to intoxication caused by alcohol. The court looked at the legislative history of the statute and concluded that the statute was enacted to respond to the problem of drunk driving. The court stated that the offense of DWAI Drugs was enacted to cover intoxication caused by drugs explicitly enumerated in the list of controlled substances in New York Public Health Law § 3306. The court held that the word “intoxication” in the statute is consistently synonymous with being under the influence of alcohol. The court held that even though Litto’s abuse of hydrocarbon while driving resulted in the death of a young woman and serious injuries to others, he could not be prosecuted under the common law DWI statute. While the use of chemical inhalants does not constitute intoxication caused by alcohol, it may cause impairment which could result in a violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192(4) (Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs), an unclassified misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in jail and a $1,000.00 fine.

The attorneys at the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are experienced in handling DWI cases. If you need a DWI lawyer who can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your DWI case, call the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys.

The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.