Lincoln police are warning parents, teachers and local retailers to be vigilant after a spate of cases in which teenagers huffed the chemicals inside air horns to get high.
Police have responded to at least 10 cases of inhalant abuse involving air horns in the last two weeks, Officer Luke Bonkiewicz said Thursday. They involved children in middle and high schools.
In one case, a teenager needed hospital treatment after officers interacting with him noticed he seemed extremely intoxicated, disoriented and he wasn't making sense, Bonkiewicz said.
He said it's not clear exactly why these teenagers have selected air horns. Other aerosols abused in huffing have included canned whipped cream.
They have been reported at homes, schools, stores and in parking lots, most in confined, isolated spaces outside of public view, and police have information suggesting the air horns are being purchased or shoplifted from sporting goods stores and other local stores, Bonkiewicz said.
Sniffing inhalants can trigger overdoses when a person uses too much of the drug. A toxic reaction can cause seizures, coma and even death, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Symptoms include slurred speech, acting drunk or disoriented, loss of inhibition or motor coordination and lightheadeness, Bonkiewicz said.
In Lincoln, none of the cases observed by police have involved life-threatening injuries, Bonkiewicz said.
But, he cautioned, "Huffing is not just some harmless game."
Parents, teachers and other school staff should watch for teens showing symptoms of huffing, empty air horn cans or other empty aerosol canisters and listen for unusual sounds such as air horns coming from bathrooms, cars or other confined spaces.
All incidents should be treated as possible medical episodes and should immediately be reported to law enforcement and rescue crews.
Police officials ask business owners to report all cases of shoplifting and consider restricting access to air horns, he said.
Anyone concerned about someone huffing shouldn't hesitate to call police, because their primary aim isn't to get someone in trouble, he said.
"We're not looking to charge or arrest anyone," Bonkiewicz said. "Wherever it is, our main priority is to save someone's life."