Volatile substance abuse


Volatile substance abuse can cause sudden death. Stephen Ream offers advice to youth workers on helping young people.

What is volatile substance abuse?

Volatile substances readily evaporate at room temperature, giving off a “sniffable” vapour. Volatile substance abuse (VSA) is when these substances are deliberately inhaled through the mouth and/or nose to achieve a change in mental state or “high”. The most commonly misused products are butane gas from cigarette lighter refills, aerosols (deodorants or hair sprays), petrol and some glues.
Many people assume that, because these products are legal, they are safe. In fact, inhaled volatile substances can kill suddenly and unpredictably, and there is no way to avoid this risk.

How many young people inhale volatile substances?

The cheapness and accessibility of products make younger and more vulnerable children particularly susceptible. In the annual NHS report Drug Use, Smoking and Drinking Among Young People in England, VSA continues to be the most common form of substance misuse among 11- to 13-year-olds, and second only to cannabis by the age of 15. However, we have seen the positive effects of preventive education, with usage falling from 5.5 per cent of pupils in 2009, to 3.8 per cent in 2010.
According to the annual St George’s University of London report, VSA kills about 50 people a year in the UK. In the past decade it has killed more under-15s than all illegal drugs combined.

Why do young people do it?

VSA is an enticing high for teenagers in that it is cheap, accessible and fast-acting, and a volatile substance such as butane has little or no hangover effect. VSA is often a sign of problems in other areas of a young person’s life, such as bereavement, divorce or stress. But the motivating factors might just be sheer accessibility, peer pressure, boredom or a desire to shock parents or carers.

What are the warning signs?

Like any drug, these can include mood or behavioural changes such as appearing drunk or dizzy, or seeming secretive, withdrawn, irritable, restless or inattentive. A chemical smell might be noticed, a runny nose, watery eyes, rashes or spots around the nose and mouth, throat irritation or nausea.
Environmental evidence of use might include empty gas, aerosol or glue containers with teeth marks in the nozzle, or products disappearing from around the home. At least one parent told us that it was a “family joke” how much deodorant their teenager used until they realised what was going on.
Social evidence might include truancy, poor academic performance, a new social group or isolation from previous friends, and a withdrawal from activities.

What can youth workers do?

VSA can cause cardiac arrhythmia – a problem with the rate or rhythm of a heartbeat – and kill instantly. The only way to avoid this risk is to stop.
If no advice is likely to encourage a user to stop VSA immediately, it might be appropriate to give information that helps them avoid other risks, such as: don’t do VSA alone or in dangerous or out-of-the-way places; don’t impede breathing in any way; don’t use near a naked flame or lit cigarette; and don’t drink alcohol or take other drugs. However, while these will reduce the risk of suffocation or fatal accident, the toxic effects of VSA can still kill at any point.
If you find a young person intoxicated from VSA remain calm. Do not excite them or try to use force to remove the product. Any stress or physical exertion can trigger cardiac arrhythmia.
When working with a young person engaging in VSA: strip the environment of temptations; have clear, visible policies on the use and storage of volatile substances; openly discuss the potential dangers to their health; explore carefully how and why VSA started; and arrange support from other agencies, such as generic drug services, GPs and counsellors.

Source:www.cypnow.co.uk 20th Sept 2011

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