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Teenage girl dies after inhaling helium at party

EAGLE POINT, Ore. — Last weekend, 14-year-old Ashley Long told her parents she was going to a slumber party. But instead, she piled into a car with friends and rode to a condo in Medford, Ore., where police say one friend's big sister was throwing a party with booze and marijuana.

After drinking on the drive and at the condo, it came time for Ashley to take her turn on a tank of helium that everyone was inhaling.

"My daughter didn't want to do it. It was peer pressure," said Ashley's stepfather, Justin Earp, who learned what happened from Ashley's friends. "They put a mask up to her face. They said it would be okay. 'It's not gonna hurt you. It'll just make you laugh and talk funny.' "

Instead, she passed out and later died at a hospital, the result of an obstruction in a blood vessel caused by inhaling helium from a pressurized tank. The death exposes the rare but real dangers of inhaling helium, especially from a pressurized tank.

Dr. Mark Morocco, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, said what happens is similar to when a scuba diver surfaces too quickly. A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through some kind of tear in a blood vessel, and can block blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.

It's important to remind kids that ingesting any substance — for the sake of getting high or just changing their voices — can be dangerous, said Frank Pegueros, executive director of DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Police arrested 27-year-old Katherine McAloon, who lives in the condo, on charges of providing alcohol and marijuana to minors.