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Huffing Air Conditioner Fluid: A Cool Way to Die?

Phatak, Darshan R. MD; Walterscheid, Jeffrey PhD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: March 2012 - Volume 33 - Issue 1 - p 64–67
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181dd5b5e
Case Reports

“Huffing,” the form of substance abuse involving inhalants, is growing in popularity because of the ease and availability of chemical inhalants in many household products. The purpose in huffing is to achieve euphoria when the chemicals in question interact with the central nervous system in combination with oxygen displacement. The abuser is lulled into a false sense of safety despite the well-documented potential for lethal cardiac arrhythmia and the effects of chronic inhalant abuse, including multisystem organ failure, and brain damage. Huffing air conditioner fluid is a growing problem given the accessibility to outdoor units and their fluid components, such as difluorochloromethane (chlorodifluoromethane, Freon), and we have classified multiple cases of accidental death due to the toxicity of difluorochloromethane. Given the ubiquity of these devices and the vast lack of gating or security devices, they make an inviting target for inhalant abusers. Acute huffing fatalities have distinct findings that are present at the scene, given the position of the decedent and proximity to the air conditioner unit. The purpose of the autopsy in these cases is to exclude other potential causes of death and to procure specimens for toxicological analysis.

From the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, Houston, TX.

Manuscript received October 26, 2009; accepted December 23, 2009.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Darshan R. Phatak, MD, Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, 1885 Old Spanish Trail, Houston, TX 77054. E-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.