Troopers say Aleknagik boy, 14, dead in huffing incident
A teenage boy in Aleknagik was found dead last week, after Alaska State Troopers say he had been huffing fumes to get high.
Dillingham troopers received an initial call around 12:30 a.m. Saturday regarding 14-year-old Nayumiralria Tugatuk’s death, according to an online dispatch.
“Tugatuk was found slumped next to an open fuel can in a boat in Aleknagik,” troopers wrote. “Investigation has determined that Tugatuk's death was due to huffing. No foul play is suspected.”
No further details on Tugatuk’s death, or whether anyone had been huffing with him, were immediately available Tuesday from responding troopers, spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
Preliminary data, assembled Tuesday by the state Department of Health and Social Services in response to a KTVA request, showed 11 huffing-related deaths statewide from 2014 through 2017. Numbers for non-fatal huffing incidents weren’t immediately available.
“Eight deaths were determined to be due to poisoning associated with huffing, either as primary cause or contributory cause of death,” DHSS officials wrote. “Three deaths were intentional self-harm where the decedents had a history of huffing. The majority of the decedents were males, 16–54 years of age.”
Deborah Hull-Jilly, an injury epidemiologist with DHSS, said huffing deaths typically involve gasoline, propane or additives in cans of compressed air used for dusting.
“The chemical we find most is gas fumes – there are other chemicals people will inhale, it will give them a high – but it is also an asphyxiant,” Hull-Jilly said. “The line between being high and being dead is a very thin line.”
Despite Tugatuk’s age, Hull-Jilly said Tuesday’s data showed a surprising trend among recent huffing deaths.
“Fifty percent of them were over the age of 30,” Hull-Jilly said. “What people had originally associated with teens, it’s not a teen addiction; it’s something we’re seeing with older adults.”
Tugatuk’s body will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy. His next of kin have been notified.