Idaho Army vet: Huffing is ‘a cheap thrill’ that wrecks lives

Aaron D. Draper doesn’t remember standing in a field off Overland Road last summer, surrounded by dozens of cans of compressed air he’d just stolen from Walmart.

He doesn’t remember sticking those 42 cans in his mouth and breathing in the aerosol fumes over and over.

All he remembers of July 19 is waking up at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center that night.

“I’ve tried to block out that day,” said Draper, dressed in his inmate’s uniform at the Ada County Jail last week. “I remember the police officer told me he wanted me to stay at Saint Al’s (instead of going to jail), because I did so much damage to my (heart).”

Draper is addicted to “huffing,” a practice in which people breathe in the propellants found in household spray cans to get high. Huffers even abuse something as seemingly benign as a can of compressed air.

The buzz occurs because of hypoxia, when oxygen is denied to the brain. Effects include lung damage and poisoning by the chemical propellants, which can even lead to fatal conditions like heart arrhythmia in rare cases.

Draper looks older than his 28 years. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army who says he served as a flight medic on Black Hawk helicopters and later at military hospitals in the mid-2000s, a career choice that he said led to his huffing addiction.

He has been through VA rehab at least twice and will enter again when he finishes his jail time for theft this winter.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I know the dangers of it. ... I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. I was more embarrassed than anything for asking for help.”

Draper knows he has done permanent damage to his health.

“If I do this again,” he said, “it’s probably going to end up killing me.”

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