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Personal Testimony

Personal Testimony of 
Diane Stem 
Old Hickory, TN 
[email protected] 
National Inhalants & Poisons 
Awareness Week Kick-Off 
March 15, 2001 

My husband and I have become well educated on the dangers of inhalants. Our education began very abruptly on June 20, 1996 when we lost our son to this silent epidemic. Our son, Ricky, huffed Freon from our home air-conditioning unit and died instantly from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. 

We're here this morning to share our story with one objective in mind. We feel we must warn other parents of the dangers of inhalants and hopefully spare another family from dealing with the nightmare of losing a precious child. 

Ricky was an outgoing sixteen year old. He was a typical teenager in many ways. He loved listening to music, talking with his friends on the phone, and sports. In fact, he had a passion for baseball, since the age of four when the bat was still bigger than he was! Ricky had been a Christian since he was 7 years old and he was involved in our church and the church youth group. 

He had just completed his sophomore year at his Christian high school. He succeeded both academically and athletically. In fact, his reputation as a left-handed, all-state pitcher on his school's baseball team had already brought him to the attention of both university and professional scouts. 

The two Ricky's, father and son, often dreamed together -as fathers and sons do - of what the future might hold for him one day in the world of sports. 

We were actively involved in every facet of our children's lives. To say we absolutely adored our children, Stephanie our oldest and Ricky, would not be an understatement. Our home was a place where each person was loved and respected. A place where we laughed together, much more than we ever cried. But, we never dreamed in a million years of the tears that lay ahead. 

We always talked openly with our children about anything and everything. We warned Ricky about the dangerous consequences of drugs and alcohol. We made it a priority to try to prepare our kids for temptations they could be faced with. But, we never, one single time, warned Ricky about the dangers of huffing. Why? Because we had never heard of huffing before Ricky died. How many times since have we said, "How we only wish we had known to warn him." 

So, on June 20, 1996 my husband came home from work to find his best friend, our precious, only son…dead in his own room.

Our son didn't know he had invited a killer into our home that day. He never meant to hurt anyone, let alone himself. Harmless fun. This is how inhalants come disguised. Inhalants aren't drugs, they aren't illegal…Harmless fun. 

Since he had only recently been introduced to this fad, Ricky didn't show the typical warning signs associated with huffing. We didn't have the luxury of warning signs. 

Huffing has been called the cocaine of the 90's but it is still alive and well today. When you think that more than 441,000 kids age 12-17 use inhalants each month I'm afraid this is much, much more than a passing fad. This is a wide-spread epidemic.

Inhalants are as close as your own kitchen sink. More than 1,000 common, useful, and legal household products can be used to get high. 

Friends, there's a killer in your house right now! 

But, as already mentioned this morning, education is the key to preventing inhalant abuse. Every year kids die from inhalant use, but still many parents and educators remain in the dark about this silent epidemic, just as we were. 

After almost 5 years we are still explaining to countless number of parents how our son died. When we're asked, "How many children do you have?" We answer, "We have two children, one has already gone to be with the Lord." They will say, "Oh, what happened, how did he die?" We tell them, "He died huffing." Then they ask, "Huffing, what is huffing?" 

I don't know how many people we've educated on the dangers of inhalants in the last five years. I never pass up the opportunity to tell them about my son and tell them how he died. 

You see, so many parents have never heard of huffing so they too have never warned their children about the dangers of inhalants. And they too could be caught off-guard just as we were. 

Since Ricky's death, year after year, we hear from parents all across the United States and continue reading the tragic headlines with stories, many times, identical to ours. Parents left dealing with the loss of a child to a killer they had never even heard of. A good kid, a loving home, and no warning signs. Another mama cries, "I didn't know to warn him, I didn't know to warn her."

Young people don't realize that using any inhalant is like playing Russian roulette. You can die the 1st, the 10th, or even the 100th time you use. 

More than 1,000 people came to Ricky's funeral to pay their respects and offer support. My husband and I looked at every teenager and said, "Don't let this happen to you." Parent after parent said the same thing, "We've never heard of huffing either."

 Our hope and our prayer is to fight this killer that took our son's life and continues taking other precious lives. We hope to spare another family, maybe your family, from this nightmare. 

How many lives must be lost? 

This is our plea to all parents: 

  • Please heed our warning! 
  • You cannot assume your child would not experiment with inhalants. No parent has that luxury. 
  • You must become educated on the dangers of inhalants, learn the facts, know the statistics, before your child becomes a statistic. 
  • Talk with your kids before it's too late. 

Before I left Nashville I received a call from a lady in east Tennessee. She called our home, she was crying and she asked me if I would do her a favor. She asked me if I would take a message to Washington for her. 

She began telling me about her little 13-year old son who became addicted to huffing paint. She told me how for seven long years, she and her husband tried desperately to get help for him, taking him from one facility to another. Her son knew he needed help and he knew he couldn't kick this addiction on his own. The hospitals released him each time, and there was no help to be found for him anywhere. Finally, two years ago her son took his own life. The mother pleaded with me over the phone to share her message in Washington today about the need for treatment facilities that are educated on inhalant abusers and that are equipped to help people like her own son. I promised her I would. 

Well, you never expect to have to bury a health 16-year old. Ricky was so full of life, ambition, dreams, and goals and they were all wiped out because of one error in judgment, one wrong choice.

This careless act not only ended his life but also forever changed the lives of those who loved him most. 

Ricky was a son, a grandson, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, he was somebody's classmate, and he was somebody's best friend.

We face every day without our son. Every Christmas, every Father's Day, every Mother's Day, someone is missing….Missing, but never forgotten. 

Next month, April 24, Ricky would have turned 21 years old. Only God knows the potential that was snuffed out that summer afternoon almost 5 years ago.


Last Updated 05.20.2002 | Email Parenting IS Prevention | Privacy Policy