Promising young footballer lost to inhalant abuse

He was a loving son and promising young footballer, but Haiqal Hazroy did not live to realise his dream of managing a soccer team and buying his mother the things she could not afford as a single parent struggling to bring up four boys.

Haiqal died last week after abusing inhalants at the age of 16.

Police said they received a call on June 12 at 10.26pm for assistance at the void deck of Block 343 in Bukit Batok Street 34, and arrested two boys for inhalant abuse upon their arrival.

A third, Haiqal, was taken unconscious to the National University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead the next day.

Police investigations are ongoing, but it is understood that Haiqal's death was related to the abuse of inhalants that have yet to be identified, and that all three boys were 16-year-old students at Assumption English School.

Abusing inhalants can lead to lethargy, organ damage, hallucination and sudden death, with adults potentially becoming mentally impaired after prolonged abuse, but Haiqal's case is believed to be one of the few reported teenage deaths directly associated with inhalant abuse.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in her home, Haiqal's mother, who wanted to be known only as Madam Zaiton, said her son had never before got into trouble.

She thought his death might be related to his mild asthma, and added there had been no indication he was abusing inhalants, nor any display of abnormal behaviour prior to his death.

Before he was found unconscious by the police, Haiqal had been chatting with his family in their HDB flat and then playing "catching" with five friends in the void deck.

"They were just being teenage boys, running around and playing as always," said Madam Zaiton, a 54-year-old operations executive.

"It has been very difficult to digest what happened."

She said Haiqal, the second-youngest of her four sons aged between 13 and 30 and a striker on his school's soccer team, was a thoughtful son who would refuse gifts because he did not want her to spend money on him unnecessarily.

Madam Zaiton called on the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to impose a minimum age for purchases of inhalants to keep them away from teens.

Counsellors say teens are especially susceptible to abusing inhalants, which are common household items such as glue, spray paint, and even cleaning fluids. These contain substances that are easily vaporised and have psychoactive properties.

"At their age, they think it's fun to sniff glue or marker pens and not a big deal," said Teen Challenge Singapore executive director Joyce Chan, who has counselled youth here for more than 10 years.

"A lot of times it's impulsive: someone may have challenged them, and they would be trying to prove themselves."

Latest CNB statistics show youth under 20 continue to form the largest proportion of inhalant abusers arrested, making up about 46 per cent of the 123 abusers last year, and 55 per cent of 2011's 159 abusers.

Intoxicating inhalants such as glue and markers are "the cheapest and easiest ways to get 'high'", said Ms Chan. They can cost just a few dollars and are widely available from stationery and provision shops, making it difficult to restrict purchases by age.

Nonetheless, anyone selling or offering to sell an intoxicating substance when it is suspected that the purpose of use is to get "high" may be jailed up two years or fined $5,000, or both.

CNB found nine shopkeepers were selling inhalant products to abusers last year.

Abusers can be admitted to an approved centre for up to six months of treatment and rehabilitation, or sentenced up to half a year in jail or fined $2,000, or both.