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'Huffing' suspected in Claremont McKenna College student's death

May 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A 19-year-old student at Claremont McKenna College was found dead inside his dorm room last week. The coroner's office says it is reportedly because of inhaling nitrous oxide.

Ali Mirza was found dead in Berger Hall last Friday morning. Mirza's autopsy is finished, but the official cause of death has been deferred.

"It's always discouraging when you see somebody with great potential unintentionally take their own life," said Jim Rhoads, who works at Pacifica Recovery.

Rhoads said in his 42 years working as a recovery specialist, he's seen hundreds of kids inhale chemicals to get high, an act known as huffing.

"I laughingly or jokingly tell clients, if it can dissolve a quarter, imagine what it can do to living tissue," said Rhoads.

Rhoads said this can be even more dangerous than some other drugs. If Mirza did die from inhaling nitrous oxide, this is only the latest in a string of incidents that involve huffing.

Two months ago, a Porter Ranch girl died from huffing computer dust cleaner. And around the same time, a pursuit suspect was seen from AIR7 HD huffing nitrous oxide from balloons.

On the streets of Claremont, almost everyone we spoke with knew about "huffing."

"I mean, you're killing your brain cells. It's not good at all, it's poison," said Gregory Johnson of Glendora, who's a recovering addict himself.

He said it's sad to see incidents like these take the lives of young people.

"I wish kids wouldn't do it, because me being a recovering addict 20 years clean, you just don't put anything into your system that's not healthy," said Johnson.

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