The Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted a study into the “choking game,” which led to the death of a Florence teenager nearly two years ago.
The findings of the study showed 82 young people have died while playing the game in the United States since it was first recognized as a cause of death in 1995.
So far, 31 states have reported incidences of youths dying while playing the game, which goes by many names, such as space monkey, the scarf game and the blackout game.
In 2005, 22 deaths occurred from the game. Thirty-five deaths were attributed to it in 2006, but the number fell in 2007 to nine deaths. The average age of people who died while playing the game was 13, one year younger than Joseph Strawn, the Florence teenager who died playing the game in 2006.
Joseph Strawn was an outgoing, friendly 14-year-old, according to his mother, Cathie Strawn, in a Morning News interview conducted shortly after her son’s death on March 23, 2006.
She also said her son was a devout Christian with plans for his future. But that was all taken away by a game many teens think is a harmless adventure, said Jim Canup, director of the employee assistance program at McLeod. Canup also is a licensed professional counselor.
“Kids who wouldn’t normally do drugs or drink seem to do this and consider it some type of innocent and harmless activity,” Canup said. “It’s been going on for generations. Once you describe it, people say ‘Oh, yeah, I played that, (it was) the passing out game,’ or something else like that.”
He said adolescence typically is a time when children exhibit risky behavior, since they tend to feel invincible.
“Adolescents do not have the same perception of fear as adults do,” he said. “And they have a difficult (time) understanding the consequences of their behaviors. That problem solving is not developed very well, especially in the early years (of adolescence).”
That lack of fear can lead to serious consequences, including death. Dr. Eric Weinstein, an emergency physician at Carolinas Hospital System, said the repercussions of playing the game can cause lasting effects if the player survives the trauma. Weinstein, a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians’ Public Health and Injury Prevention committee, is familiar with the long-term effects that can occur from playing the “choking game.”
“Long-term problems could be withdrawal, behavioral issues, and injuries to the neck could cause voice box problems,” he said. “School performance can also have problems (including) social withdrawl and anger issues.”
Beth Drelich, clinical counselor for Florence School District 1, where Joseph Strawn was a student, said his death affected students temporarily, but once they moved past the shock, they returned to other risky behaviors.
“I haven’t heard of any tragedies relating to (the choking game) in quite a while,” she said. “But every parent should still keep an eye on their children for any high risk behavior. I don’t think the children have learned from Joseph’s tragedy.”