A deadly addiction, teens huffing freon from AC units

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - While you sit in your home with your air conditioner running, you could be feeding a teen's deadly addiction. Kids, right here in our area, are huffing chemicals from air conditioning units to get high.

It's disgusting. An addiction that chips away at brain cells is captured in homemade videos posted on YouTube. Teens out of control, caught on camera chasing a short-lived high by inhaling chemicals used to cool your home.

Wayne Frith with S.A.F.E. Chesterfield is working to keep this from becoming a disturbing trend.

We asked him to tell us why people would do something like this?  "Essentially it gives you the high of being intensely drunk on alcohol," explained Frith.  "Except it delivers that high in a matter of less than two seconds."

"You could die on the first try," said mother Mona Casey.

Mona Casey knows about the life-threatening danger. Her 15-year old son Charles was addicted to freon. In 2006, he picked up the habit from a friend after school. She explained the mind-killing method to us during a Skype interview from her Florida home.

"The effects of refrigerant had already dissipated so there was no clue or any indication to us that he was up to no good that day," Casey said.

Some teens are taking huffing to terrifying extremes in order to feed their addiction that begins minutes after the first huff.

"Some people, when they're doing inhalants, will put them in a plastic bag and put the bag over their head," Frith said.

Teens will pass out with a bag over their head.  They can die from heart-failure, brain damage or suffocation.  Mona said two weeks after her son learned to huff he was dead. His lifeless body found sprawled out on a neighbor's yard.

"We had no idea that such danger was so easily accessible," Casey said.

Unaware of huffing before her sons death, Casey created www.UproarOrg.org to educate people on the dangers lurking outside your home. Casey changed international mechanical and residential code. Beginning this year, AC units are now installed with extra security.

Air conditioning technicians in Richmond now install special AC locks on an older models.  Dominion Service Company of Richmond is receiving more and more calls for the small, shiny hardware that fits around the valve where freon can be released from the AC unit.

"To date we've installed about 400 of the caps," said Chase Tunnell who runs Dominion Service Company of Richmond.

Tunnell began securing AC units after hearing of Mona Casey's painful reality.  He knows the small silver caps can save lives.

"We had an area school system that actually had an incident of a student huffing refrigerant out of one of the system's there," recalled Tunnell.

He's also getting calls from concerned parents who are suspicious of their child's behavior.

"One in particular has actually seen their son hanging around their outdoor unit with plastic bags," Tunnell said.

The locks cannot be easily removed.  The only ones who can remove them are licensed technicians with a key that's unavailable to the public.

"I'm very, very happy that the people there in Virginia are taking this very seriously," said Casey as we explained to her what Richmond companies were doing.

Summer is fast approaching.  Teens will have more free time. Casey said you need to secure your AC units now.

"If your child dies on the first use, which many of them have, it will be too late then," Casey said.

To learn more about Mona Casey's story: www.UproarOrg.org

To learn more about what local companies are doing to make existing AC units safer: www.ChesterfieldSafe.org

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