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Officials believe North Huntingdon victim inhaled chemical vapors

| Friday, Nov. 4, 2011

A man found dead in a North Huntingdon creek on Wednesday had a history of arrests for inhaling chemical vapors, and "huffing" may have contributed to his death, police said.

David S. Munnerlyn Jr., 41, who had been staying at Motel 3 along Route 30 in North Huntingdon, was discovered by landscapers lying partially submerged in the unnamed creek off Route 30.

Five or six aerosol cans were found around Munnerlyn's body, North Huntingdon police Chief Michael Daugherty said.

While the cause and manner of Munnerylyn's death will not be known until toxicology tests are conducted, Daugherty suspects inhalant abuse contributed.

"I think that led to his demise," Daugherty said. "We can't be sure until the autopsy (results are finalized)."

Munnerlyn, who previously lived in Scottdale, had a history of inhalant abuse, often called "huffing." The practice is becoming more common among adults.

"Huffing," or intentionally inhaling a chemical vapor to get high, typically has been thought of as a behavior among children and adolescents. But a study released earlier this year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found more than 54 percent of inhalant abuse treatment admissions in 2008 involved adults 18 and older.

The agency's National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows an estimated 1.1 million adults oldeer than 18 used inhalants in the past year. By contrast, 988,000 used crack cocaine; 637,000 used LSD; 571,000 used heroin and 75,000 used PCP.

"Huffing" is popular because inhalants are cheap and easy to obtain, experts say. More than 1,400 products are potentially dangerous when inhaled -- everything from correction fluid and felt-tip markers to spray paint and cooking spray.

Inhalant abuse can result in heart, liver, kidney and brain damage. Users can suffocate from fumes or die from an irregular heart rhythm in what is known as sudden sniffing death syndrome.

"Any one time can kill you," said Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center. "Any time you use, it's really like playing Russian roulette. The substance that's main intention is to remove a topcoat of your furniture or dissolve dust and grease in your keyboard -- what do you think that's going to do when it hits your lungs, your liver, your brain?"

He has seen patients of all ages addicted to huffing, though in the Pittsburgh region it primarily involves young adolescents.

"It actually tends to be greater in eighth-graders as opposed to 12th-graders, because 12th-graders tend to have greater access to other drugs," he said.

Adults who abuse inhalants typically have other addictions, Capretto said.

"We do see adults that do other drugs that have periods of huffing to get an alternative reality," he said. "Usually that's a person that has a likelihood of greater problems in their life -- mental health problems, physical problems."

Court records show Munnerlyn was arrested three times for huffing in late 2009 in North Huntingdon. Police charged him in separate cases with smelling or inhaling toxic-releasing substances, possession of solvents for release of toxic vapors or fumes, and public drunkenness.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two to 12 months in prison. He was released for time served and completed one year's probation earlier this year.

Daugherty said his officers come across inhalant abuse from time to time.

"It seems like the same people over and over and over again," Daugherty said. "They get hooked on that stuff and can't break it."

Their addictions often go undetected.

"The thing about huffing is people can often kind of stay under the radar. because you go into a store and you buy paint thinner, aerosol cans," Capretto said. "As more people are using other street drugs and getting addicted, if they don't have access to (the drugs) they'll try to get a high with whatever they can obtain, and these are easy to obtain and they're very inexpensive."

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