The town is looking to work with the school district to educate students at John Witherspoon Middle School about a dangerous "choking game," in which participants risk death or serious injury to get a momentary thrill, that a handful of JW students appear to have started playing.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane, first notified around three weeks ago when a parent told him she had overheard JW students talking about the game, said Wednesday that the school nurse at JW "soon" would be talking to students about the dangers of involved.
Princeton Board of Health Chairman Dr. George DiFerdinando said Thursday that he and municipal health officer Jeffrey C. Grosser have been in touch with the JW School nurse about doing an education program for students.
"We're trying to figure out the best way to get this message through to the JW students and the broader Princeton population about the risks involved," he said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on its website, said the game involves "self-strangulation or strangulation by another person with the hands or a noose to achieve a brief euphoric state caused by cerebral hypoxia." Most players are "typically" youths, according to the CDC.
The federal agency reported that between 1995-2007, there were "82 probable choking-game deaths" of children and young adults between 6 and 19 years old. Males were the victims in 71 of those cases, the CDC said.
Besides death, choking can lead to other medical problems, including brain damage.
The matter became public Tuesday at the municipal board of Health meeting. Board member Linda Steiner-Sichel aired the issue in response to concerns a community member brought to her about seventh-grade boys playing the game and then posting photos on Instagram, a social media site.
After the meeting, Dr. DiFerdinando said he had first heard of the "choking" phenomena during his days working in public health in New York state during the AIDS epidemic.
"It's a risky activity that can heighten sensation in certain circumstances," he said. "The message needs to go out that people can and have been hurt by this and some people have died from this activity."
Town officials this week reacted to the news with alarm.
"It's very troubling and concerning," Mayor Liz Lempert said Wednesday.
"Obviously, I was really concerned to hear about the choking at the middle school," said Councilwoman Heather H. Howard, whose son attends JW. "I'm glad the school's aware of it. Being a parent is never easy."
For its part, the district plans to look into the situation.
"We need more information before we can comment on this matter," school board President Patrick Sullivan said Wednesday. "We will be investigating to find out the facts."