TRAVERSE CITY — Intentionally inhaling household chemicals can be dangerous, especially when driving a car.
A spate of so-called “huffing” incidents in Grand Traverse County led to arrests and involved suspects who authorities said used their vehicles as venues for purposely breathing in intoxicating vapors.
Michigan law prohibits inhaling the fumes of “any chemical agent” for purposes of causing intoxication, euphoria or dulling of the senses or central nervous system. The misdemeanor charge carries up to a 93-day jail sentence.
“It seems like they come in spurts,” said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney of local inhalant abuse cases.
Prosecutor’s office records show the three inhalant cases in Grand Traverse County this year already outpaced the total number in 2011 and 2012 -- one and two, respectively -- and are closing in on the four from last year.
Megan Nicole Durfee, 22, of Traverse City, faces the seldom-if-ever-seen accusation of driving “while under influence of Suave Extra Hold hairspray,” according to court documents. Sheriff’s deputies arrested her on Jan. 12 after she narrowly avoided a head-on crash with a patrol car on LaFranier Road when she veered her vehicle out of oncoming traffic and into a snow bank.
“In speaking with Durfee she appeared distant, and did not answer any questions,” the police report states. “She was only smiling and looking around her vehicle.”
Durfee’s arrest came one day after sheriff’s deputies found Devon Scott Washkevich, 19, of Traverse City, slumped over the wheel of a car parked in the Northwestern Michigan Fairgrounds. The police report states he had a can of “Ultra Duster Industrial Strength” spray next to him. He told deputies he would spray it into his mouth and usually pass out for 15 to 30 minutes.
“While Washkevich was explaining this to me, the Munson Medical (Center) staff advised him that he could die instantly from doing this and that it could shut down his whole respiratory system,” the report states.
But it appears Washkevich didn’t heed the medical advice. On Jan. 22, a sheriff’s deputy found him yet again slumped over a steering wheel next to a can of all-purpose duster; this time, his car was parked near Traverse City High School.
Washkevich’s ex-girlfriend reported she suspected he broke into her house and stole her black-and-white Chihuahua. She identified her dog as the one found in Washkevich’s car by noting its painted pink toenails.
Both Durfee and Washkevich are scheduled for pretrial in 86th District Court this week. Washkevich’s attorney Jacob Graff gave a “no comment” through a receptionist. Durfee’s attorney Thomas Seger couldn’t be reached for comment.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health released in 2006 found that inhalants are the third-most commonly used illicit drug among adolescents. Susan Kramer, clinical director for Addiction Treatment Services in Traverse City, said computer cleaners, hairspray, glue, paint and other potential inhalants can offer a quick and inexpensive way for youths to get high.
“In terms of how they work, they’re very fast-acting. There’s an almost immediate sensation they bring,” she said.
But the quick high comes with an inherent danger. Kramer said inhalants are not only addictive, but also have the ability to cause organic damage in a user’s brain fairly quickly.
“You’re talking about not just temporarily, but permanently affecting brain chemistry,” she said.
Kramer said inhalant abuse is a cause for concern, but drug counselors in the Traverse City area haven’t seen a recent uptick in cases.