Dale Lingle thought his 16-year-old son was simply sleeping off a late night of computer and video games when he found him still lying in bed in the middle of the afternoon July 18.
“He was a typical teenager. In the summer, he would stay up late on the computer and playing video games,” Dale said. “I went in to get him out of bed and he didn’t wake up.”
More than two months after his death, Codie Lingle’s family finally knows with some certainty what caused the death of their son and brother.
An autopsy determined Codie died from cardiac arrhythmia, caused by inhalant abuse. Dale said his son experienced an instant death after inhaling “canned air,” a generic name for a common spray can product used to blow dust and dirt out of computer and electronics equipment. The Glenwood Community High School student who enjoyed the outdoors, was a talented artist and played saxophone in the marching band, is among a troubling number of teenagers and adults nationwide who have died in recent years from what’s become known as “dusting.” The Lingles are going public with Codie’s story in an effort to sound a warning to other parents with the hopes of preventing a tragic loss for another family.
“It’s important for us to get the word out there because we don’t want any other family in Glenwood or anywhere else to have to go through what we’ve gone through,” Michelle Lingle, Codie’s step-mother, said. “I had seen something about dusting on a television show called Intervention about two or three years ago. I thought, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, why would somebody do this? Never in a million years did I think one of my own children would do that.”
Dale, who works on computers for a living as a network engineer, said he’s used compressed air on the job thousands of times, but never realized how deadly the product could be. He’s researched dusting and talked to multiple doctors since Codie’s death.
“The doctors I’ve talked to said the kids that try this get a 5-to-10 second head rush because the refrigerant in the product blocks the oxygen flow to the brain, which will flat out kill you,” Dale said. “It causes the brain to send mixed messages to the heart, often causing all four chambers of the heart to contract at the same time. There’s no blood movement at all in the body, so even CPR wouldn’t have helped if we would have found Codie right away.”
A study sponsored two years ago by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found teenagers to be the biggest abuser of canned air because of its availability and relatively low cost (less than $5 a can).
“There is nothing more dangerous out there,” licensed clinical addictions specialist Charles O’Dell stated in an article published after the NIDA study. “These are highly toxic chemicals, and over a period of time, can cause not only brain damage, but heart damage as well.”
Glenwood Police Capt. Dirk Lincoln was among the police officers who came to the Lingle home when Codie died. Lincoln said a twin pack of the canned air was found in Codie’s room. It was apparent one of the cans had been used.
Lincoln said the incident was the second time he’s encountered a case of dusting in Glenwood. The first situation involved an adult male who was addicted to canned air. Lincoln, who has children of his own, was so shaken by Codie’s death he removed the product from his own home.
“It’s a horrible, horrible deal,” Lincoln said. “A parent should not allow this in their home.”
One of the scariest aspects of dusting, according to one national study, is that in a high percentage of the fatal cases, the victim was believed to have been inhaling the canned air for only the first or second time. Dale said the toxicology findings in Codie’s autopsy showed no evidence of drugs and the family suspects Codie himself was experimenting for the first time. They know Codie purchased the canned air from an electronics store two nights before his death.
Logan Lingle, one of Codie’s older brothers, said he had heard about people inhaling canned air, but never expected his brother to be one to try it. Logan compared dusting to playing Russian roulette.
“It’s a gun with a loaded chamber and you’re playing with it,” Logan said.
Aware of the deaths and other serious health problems that have resulted from abuse of canned air, some manufacturers of the product have added a bitter taste and offensive odor to each can to make inhaling undesirable. Some, not all, retailers are limiting the sale of computer and electronics cleaning products to persons over the age of 18.
Glenwood Community Schools superintendent Devin Embray said Glenwood students aren’t given access to canned air or any other product to clean their computers. Embray said the new Google Chromebooks being utilized and distributed throughout the district this year will be collected at the end of the school year and safely cleaned in the summer by district personnel.
Guidance counselor Kathleen Loeffelbein said she and other members of the GCHS staff were deeply saddened by Codie’s death. She said students across the district are reminded on a regular basis about the importance of making smart and healthy decisions, but young people often view themselves as being indestructible and don’t always fully understand the consequences of their actions.
Inhalant abuse and dusting are topics addressed with students who take an elective health class at GCHS taught by Curt Schulte. Inhalants are discussed during a four-week portion of the class dealing with drug use and drug abuse and students are given the opportunity to research the topic further for an in-class presentation.
Schulte said he was unaware dusting was the probable cause of Codie’s death.
“If that’s the case, it’s something we’ll hit harder,” Schulte said. “The main thing the kids need to know (about dusting) is that you can die from it.”
Hollis Karcher, a licensed social worker and drug and alcohol counselor for Heartland Family Services, has worked with several clients from Glenwood battling substance abuse. She’s uncertain how prevalent dusting is in the community, but is aware of the existence of inhalant abuse.
“We occasionally do encounter people who have abused inhalants,” Karcher said. “I believe there’s probably more misuse than we realize.”
The Lingles share Karcher’s belief, but they’re also hopeful Codie’s death will create an awareness of the very real dangers that come with inhalant abuse.
“It’s just a senseless, pointless, needless loss,” Logan said of his little brother’s death. “There’s no other way to sum it up.”