‘Chok­ing game’ claims 82 young lives

Chil­dren re­port­edly stran­gled each other to achieve high

The Covington News - - Health & Wellness - By Mike Stobbe

AT­LANTA — At least 82 youths have died from the so- called “ chok­ing game,” ac­cord­ing to the first gov­ern­ment count of fa­tal­i­ties from the tragic fad.

In the game, chil­dren use dog leashes or bungee cords wrapped around their necks or other means to tem­po­rar­ily cut blood flow to their head. The goal is a dream­like, float­ing- in- space feel­ing when blood rushes back into the brain.

As many as 20 per­cent of teens and pre­teens play the game, some­times in groups, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates based on a few lo­cal stud­ies. But nearly all the deaths were youths who played alone, ac­cord­ing to the count com­piled by the U. S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

The CDC started the re­search af­ter re­ceiv­ing a let­ter last year from a Ta­coma, Wash., physi­cian who said her 13- year- old son died from play­ing the game in 2005.

“At the time I had never heard of this,” said Dr. Pa­tri­cia Rus­sell, whose son was found hang­ing in his closet, but later learned he had talked to a friend about it.

“ One thing that re­ally needs to hap­pen — and is start­ing to hap­pen now — is to get more in­for­ma­tion about how com­mon this is,” she said.

The CDC counted cases from news re­ports and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions in the years 1995 through 2007, to­tal­ing 82 fa­tal­i­ties of chil­dren ages 6 to 19. They did not in­clude deaths in which it was un­clear if the death was from the chok­ing game or if it was a sui­cide. They also did not in­clude deaths that in­volved au­to­erotic as­phyx­i­a­tion, which is self- stran­gu­la­tion dur­ing mas­tur­ba­tion and is said to be mainly done by teenage boys or men.

The 82 deaths were spread across 31 states. Nearly 90 per­cent were boys, at an av­er­age age of about 13, the CDC found.

Three or fewer deaths were re­ported from 1995 through 2004. They jumped to 22 in 2005, 35 in 2006 and at least nine in 2007. It’s not clear what drove the in­crease in re­cent years, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

The re­port is be­ing pub­lished this week in a CDC pub­li­ca­tion, Mor­bid­ity and Mor­tal­ity Weekly Re­port.

CDC of­fi­cials urged par­ents to be aware the fad ex­ists, and to watch for pos­si­ble warn­ing signs like blood­shot eyes, marks on the neck, fre­quent and se­vere headaches, dis­ori­en­ta­tion af­ter spend­ing time alone, and ropes, scarves or belts tied to bed­room furniture or door­knobs or found knot­ted on the floor.

The au­thors ac­knowl­edged that 82 is prob­a­bly an un­der­count. They could not rely on death cer­tifi­cates, which do not dif­fer­en­ti­ate chok­ing- game deaths from other un­in­ten­tional stran­gu­la­tion deaths. In­stead, they re­lied mainly on a news data­base that is large but doesn’t in­clude all me­dia out­lets.

It’s likely that there are about 100 U. S. chok­ing game deaths each year, said Dr. Tom Andrew, New Hamp­shire’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner, who has been study­ing the phe­nom­e­non for sev­eral years.

Andrew said many coro­ners and med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers likely la­bel the deaths as sui­cides be­cause they don’t have the time or re­sources to in­ter­view a vic­tim’s friends and look for al­ter­nate ex­pla­na­tions.

Many of the chil­dren who died from the chok­ing game were de­scribed as bright, ath­letic stu­dents who ap­par­ently were in­trigued by a method of get­ting high that doesn’t in­volve drugs or al­co­hol, he said.

They watch it on YouTube, or hear about it in school or at sum­mer camp, said Shar­ron Grant, a Cana­dian wo­man who was a founder of an ad­vo­cacy group called Games Ado­les­cents Shouldn’t Play ( GASP).

Chok­ing game fa­tal­i­ties are not nearly as com­mon as sui­cide deaths among youths who choose hang­ing or suf­fo­ca­tion. About 5,100 such sui­cide deaths were re­ported from 1995 through 2007, and while it’s pos­si­ble some were un­rec­og­nized chok­ing game deaths, most were be­lieved to be ac­tual sui­cides, said Robin Toblin, a CDC epi­demi­ol­o­gist.

The game is also known by names that in­clude “ black­out,” ‘’space mon­key” and “ pass out,” Toblin and oth­ers said.

Vari­a­tions of the game have been around for decades, but the trend of do­ing it alone seems to be re­cent, Andrew said.

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