NEW YORK -- New Mexico health officials warn that teenagers who inhale fumes from typewriter correction fluid to get high run the risk of sudden death.
'It's something that school officials and public health officials should be aware of and should take action to warn children of possible consequences,' said Dr. John E. Smialek, chief medical investigator for New Mexico.
Since 1979, five New Mexico teenagers who had inhaled correction fluid fumes died soon afterward, probably of heart failure, Smialek said in a telephone interview.
Once used as an anesthetic, the fluid in which the correction ingredient is dissolved seems to excite the nervous system and to cause the heart to beat irregularly, he said.
Witnesses to the deaths said the victims suddenly became very active after inhaling the fluid's fumes, then ran around, collapsed and died.
'Just because a person has used it once and doesn't die from it, it doesn't mean it won't be fatal the next time it's used,' Smialek said.
Smialek and two colleagues reported on four of the deaths in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
The small quantities of solvent released during normal use should be safe, the researchers said. Teenagers concentrate fumes by saturating a rag with the fluid and inhaling through the rag as the solvent evaporates.
Gillette Co. in Boston, which makes one of the fast-drying correction fluids, receives reports of two to three deaths from the correction fluid a year.
On further investigation, however, it is sometimes unclear whether the company's product was the cause of death, said David Fausch, Gillette's vice president for corporate public relations.
'Whether we can document it or not, we recognize there is a problem with abuse about this product and we're very concerned about it,' Fausch said in a telephone interview.
Recognizing the potential hazards, some manufacturers have strengthened their warning labels. Gillette has put mustard oil in its products to discourage intentional inhalation.
The products are commonly called white-out and are marketed as Liquid Paper, Wite-Out and Snopake.