Inhaling chemicals and driving is on the rise, and prosecutors and lawmakers are racing to close a loophole in DUI laws after learning “huffing” isn't covered. (AP Photo)
“Literally, people are in their car and huffing while they're driving and it impairs you,” says Amy Freedheim, King County's Senior Deputy Prosecutor who oversees DUI prosecutions in the county.
There's been a significant increase overall in the use of inhalants ranging from gasoline, to glue to paint, especially among 12 to 17-year-olds, says Freedheim. And she says, as cops and prosecutors started seeing more and more problems, they discovered current DUI laws don't prohibit huffing of legal substances.
“It turns out in the definition of drugs in Washington state, it's confined to drugs that are created for human consumption,” Freedheim says. So getting high on chemicals like paint thinner, not created for human consumption, are exempted.
The high produced by inhaling the chemicals is compared to a stimulant, euphoric effect, according to Freedheim. But she says it is difficult for cops to detect when they stop an erratic driver.
“You don't see any evidence of other drug use, but you see that the person is impaired.”
A new measure overhauling DUI laws recently passed by the Washington House would close the loophole to include ingesting any chemical legal or not with the intent of getting high. And evidence can include “possession of [a] canister or container” known for being used to get high, like a bag with spray paint inside.
That measure is now in the Senate awaiting action.
Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com Reporter