'Even the good ones slip up'

MEDFORD, Ore. - The stepmother of a 14-year-old girl who died after reportedly mixing helium gas and alcohol is reaching out in an effort to warn other parents about the dangers their teenagers can face.

Over the weekend, 14-year-old Ashley Long died during a house party in Medford.

Police responded to the home after someone called 9-1-1 and said a teenage girl was not breathing and was unconscious after drinking alcohol and inhaling helium.

The girl was transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Lissa Long, Ashley's stepmother, said she had no idea that teenagers were inhaling helium out of tanks for fun, or that it could be deadly.

She added that Ashley never showed any signs of drug use or other bad behavior. She said her 14-year-old stepdaughter was always happy and had good grades.

Long said she puts part of the blame on peer pressure. She said other teens at the party told her family that Ashley took just one hit out of the helium tank before she died and that the girl did it because she wanted to fit in.

"Even the good ones slip up," said Long. "They can get pressured into something they know better. They just don't know the dangers."

An adult who was at the home, 27-year-old Katherine Diane McAloon, was arrested following what happened. She faces charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor and delivering marijuana to a minor.

McAloon is scheduled to be arraigned in court on Tuesday. The district attorney's office has not said whether it will charge her with manslaughter.

An autopsy on the teenager is pending.

If you would like to help the family, a memorial fund has been set up at Wells Fargo under the name 'Ashley Jean Long Memorial.' You can also leave comments for the family on a memorial page that has been set up on Facebook.

Why is Helium Dangerous?

Oregon Partnership, an organization that aims to end substance abuse and suicide, sent us the following information about helium and what it does to the human body:

It is not that helium is poisonous. It is all about replacing the air in your lungs with helium.

The inhalation of helium can cut off a person's oxygen supply and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. Helium gas can totally displace the available oxygen and if this is maintained for even a few seconds, asphyxia and death can and will occur.

A little-known aspect of inhaling helium is how quickly you may lose consciousness due to asphyxia. During the exchange of gases in the normal breathing process, the blood stream absorbs oxygen from air in the lungs, while carbon dioxide passes from the blood to the air. When you hold your breath, the exchange of gases slows, as "stale" air in the lungs is no longer replaced by "fresh" air. However, when the lungs are filled with helium, a different process takes over. Oxygen is actually removed from the blood stream during the exchange of gases.

Over the years, children and adults have inhaled helium from balloons at parties to produce high, cartoon-like voices. Inhaling helium is often thought to be a harmless party trick that leaves the user with a temporarily squeaky voice. Thousands of partygoers continue to inhale helium thinking it to be incredibly funny rather than life threatening.

Normally, inhaling helium from balloons does not cause many problems, but inhaling anything from a pressurized tank is extremely dangerous.

Only recently have pressurized helium tanks become readily available to the general public for use at parties. The high pressure of the gas can damage the lungs as well as send a bolus (a concentrated mass) of gas into the bloodstream. This can lodge in the brain, causing a stroke, seizures and death. Chemical reaction does not cause fatal injuries.

Rather, the pressure of gas inside the lungs is the agent that can kill instantly. Autopsies show that the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs have been ruptured. Death follows immediately, as the victims literally drown in their own blood. Under such circumstances, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is of no avail.

It's appealing because it's a fast and cheap high, and is relatively easy to get a can of something that has aerosol in it.

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