Inhalants are one of seven categories of drugs that Drug Recognition Experts look for in a driving under the influence evaluation.
This article discusses the effects and signs of inhalant drug use.
Inhalants are a category of substances that have little in common except they are all inhaled. Inhalants include paints, gasses, glues, Nitrites and Nitrous Oxide.
Drug Recognition Experts are officers trained to determine if a driver is impaired by drugs. The Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) looks for signs of drug use and impairment and then makes a guess about which type of drug a person may have used.
The DREs have divided commonly used drugs into seven categories, one of which is inhalants. Each category of drugs produces different side effects and signs of use. The DRE will ask a driver to perform a series of tests, and then performs an evaluation of the driver.
The results of the test are used by the DRE to guess which type of drug a driver used (if they don’t already know from admissions or a search).
What Behaviors or Clues Indicate Inhalant Use?
- Residue of substance around nose & mouth
- Odor of substance
- Possible nausea
- slow, slurred speech
- Disorientation and confusion
- Bloodshot, watery eyes
- Lack of muscle control
- Flushed Face
- Intense headaches
What are the Signs of Inhalant Use?
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – Present
Vertical Gaze Nystagmus – Present at a high dose
Lack of Convergence – Present
Pupils – Size 4
Reaction to Light – Slow
Pulse Rate – Up
Blood Pressure – Up or down depending on the substance inhaled. Blood pressure goes up with solvents and aerosols (paints, gasses, glues, etc). The rate goes down with anesthetic gasses (Nitrous Oxide).
Body Temperature – Body temperature goes up with solvent chemicals, but down with anesthetic gasses.
Muscle tone – Normal muscle tone with solvent chemical inhalants. Flaccid muscle tone with anesthetic gasses
Signs of overdose – Coma or respiratory arrest
Driving Under the Influence of Inhalant Chemicals
A DUI by inhalant chemicals is legally charged as Operating While Intoxicated by an Intoxicating Substance. A first-offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days in jail, fines, and costs, probation, or a combination of these punishments.
While use of a solvent chemical is illegal, possession of these inhalant chemicals themselves is not illegal. This is important because it may effect a police officer’s ability to search your car: Read People v. Wood, a case in which a police officer didn’t have legal grounds to search a vehicle simply because he saw inhalant chemicals in the car.
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