Father angered by 'huffing' reaction

23:24, Dec 05 2012

The upset parents of a 12-year-old Invercargill girl claim her school sent her home without medical attention after she was caught huffing, while she had also taken several paracetamol tablets.

A report by Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean says huffing is the intentional inhalation of aerosols, solvents and gases for intoxication.

The girl, a year 8 student at Southland Girls' High School, and a friend were caught huffing at the school on Friday, the girl's father said.

Another student had also told a teacher that his daughter had taken 10 paracetamol tablets, he said.

The school called the girl's mother who picked her up from school and, not realising how serious the incident could have been, took her home and kept an eye on her, he said. The school suggested she get her daughter checked out, he said.

He said he was extremely angry with the school, which he believed did not take appropriate action and call for medical assistance.


Girls' High principal Yvonne Browning confirmed two girls had been huffing before class.

"The teacher took action immediately and the school contacted both parents. We thought that one of the girls may have needed a medical check because she told us that she had also taken some Panadol before coming to school," she said. "We asked this mother to come straight away which she did. From the outset, we did advise the mother to take her daughter to A and E to seek expert medical help."

Huffing was rare at the school, Mrs Browning said.

The school procedure was to immediately contact home and notify parents or whanau of the situation, she said.

"Like everything we do, we do it with best interests of the child at heart."

As huffing was rare at the school they did not plan to ban aerosol cans as Southland Boys' High School had this year.

Boys' High rector Ian Baldwin said the last time a student had been caught huffing was about four months ago.

While huffing was not a major problem at the school they had banned aerosol deodorants to make it more difficult for students, although he said most students did not "huff" on school grounds but in a park before or after school, or during lunch.

He did not see huffing as a major threat and said it was easy to monitor. Those who had been huffing were usually detected by a staff member or another student, he said.

Affected students displayed unnatural highs, were disoriented, and were "easy to spot" because of their change in behaviour, Mr Baldwin said.

Although there was no test to determine whether students were under the influence of huffing, any student caught doing it was put on a drug monitoring programme and worked with the school counsellor, he said.

School newsletters contained information for parents, and the Life Education Trust worked with the students, but this could sometimes lead to a "spike" in interest as it brings huffing to their attention, he said.

"Those few who use reasonably constantly have a range of other issues . . . we know that the great majority of children are very safe and unlikely to experiment."

James Hargest College principal Andy Wood was not aware of any students "indulging in it".

"In saying that I am not burying my head in the sand and pretending no-one is experimenting; someone, somewhere probably is."

The school did not have a specific protocol around huffing but if there was ever an incident where someone was physically unwell it would be handled like any other medical emergency, he said.

Sergeant Phil Berryman, of Invercargill police youth services, said as far as he was aware huffing was not a problem at Southland schools.

He could not think of any recent huffing cases off the top of his head, and said if there had been an increase in cases it was not something that had been reported to police.

"Unless the kid was really out of it, or unless they were really reacting behaviour-wise to intervention, I wouldn't see a need that the school would be ringing us."

It would be up to the school whether they called police, he said.

The Southland Times