CHILDREN as young as ten are drinking and sniffing petrol, a growing and potentially lethal form of solvent abuse, experts warned yesterday.
More children have gained access to the fuel after being bought quad bikes or off-road motorbikes. But many have become addicted to the chemicals in petrol and their parents have phoned the solvent abuse charity LOST, begging for help.
John O’Brien, who set up LOST after his son Lee, 16, died in 2002 from inhaling lighter fuel, said children were playing “Russian roulette” and added: “Parents are asleep to this danger, which could kill their children the first time they try it.”
Mr O’Brien, from Methil, Fife, said: “We first heard about kids drinking petrol about two years ago and since then we have had dozens of calls from parents whose children don’t know how to break the addiction. Kids phone us too. Some say they are being bullied into it by peer group pressure.
“Petrol abuse has always been a big problem in the US, South America and Australia. But in this country, although it has always been around to some extent, it has been exacerbated by parents buying their kids these quad bikes and off-road motorbikes. Youngsters tell each other they can get the petrol out the tank and gulp it down. They are mostly unsupervised on these bikes and out of sight of their parents.
“The chemicals in the petrol, such as butane, give them a buzz which lasts ten to 20 minutes and then they try again when it wears off. They don’t realise that the first time can kill them.”
Richard, 12, who lives in Fife, contacted LOST’s 24-hour helpline earlier this year. He said: “My dad bought me a quad bike for Christmas. He said, ‘Away you go son and have fun’. It was brilliant and everyone wanted a shot. My dad always bought the petrol but we fell out.
“Someone told me just to siphon it off his car, so I did. Then this guy says, ‘You take it from your dad and we’ll sell it to other quaddies and we’ll keep some for socialising.’ I didn’t know what he meant but didn’t want to look stupid. He said, Your mum and dad can booze so why can’t we do the same?’ “We drank the petrol in a park where we went on our bikes. It was a total buzz. I didn’t want to stop. Things were getting mad. I was feeling paranoid, so I phoned John [at LOST].”
Professor Anthony Busuttil, of Edinburgh University’s forensic pathology unit, said: “The butane in the petrol is one of the main substances giving the buzz. It is an extremely dangerous thing. Petrol evaporates quickly and stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs down from the brain stem to the back of the nose, tongue, gullet and neck, causing you to drop dead.”
In Britain, death rates from volatile substance abuse (VSA) are highest in Scotland and north-east England. Since 1971, there have been 2,103 VSA deaths, 282 in Scotland.
Campaigners said the true figures were higher as they did not include fatal accidents and suicides as a result of VSA.
The Scottish Executive said: “We are clear that there is a real need to get a clear message out to young people. We do not see volatile substance abuse as separate from drug abuse, but part of it.”
Source: The ScotsMan Tuesday 6 Sep 2005