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  • Re-Solv - National charity solely dedicated to the prevention of solvent and volatile substance abuse (VSA).
    Tel: 0808 800 2345
  • Drugscope - Information about drugs including solvents. Also contains a very comprehensive report into the drug situation in the UK and a full Drug Action Team list.
  • SDF - Devoted to the drug and solvent problem in Scotland.
  • Reports on Volatile Substance Abuse - Contains copies of St George's annual reports Trends in Deaths Associated with the Abuse of Volatile Substances, including the most recent one for 2002.
  • SOLVE IT - Confidential advice, information, support or counselling.
    Tel: 01536 510010
  • Lee O'Brien Solvent Trust - Scottish charity that offers education and support services to anyone affected by Volatile Solvent Abuse.
    Tel: 07910 483 525

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Aerosol can

Solvent abuse

Around one person a week dies from volatile solvent abuse. investigates.

When you think of the term "death by drugs", you probably most likely conjure up images of heroin syringes or ecstasy tabs. You probably wouldn't think of deodorant bottles and lighter fuel. However solvent abuse kills as many people as ecstasy, except it doesn't get the same press coverage.

These are not 'street drugs', a typical home has 30 kitchen and bathroom products that can be abused. It's the very fact that all of these substances are legal and have legitimate uses that allows users to believe that they are doing nothing wrong.

Abusable products

The products to be aware of include: butane gas cigarette lighter refills, liquefied domestic gas, solvent based adhesives, deodorant aerosols, pain relief sprays, aerosol air fresheners, hairspray, other aerosols, some correction fluids, petrol, certain paints, paint thinners & removers, dry cleaning agents, petrol lighter fuel, nail varnish & varnish remover, some shoe & metal polish, and plaster remover.

The numbers

Based on 2006 figures, around one person dies every week in the UK from the effects of solvent abuse, according to the annual volatile substance abuse (VSA) report.

In 60% of deaths from VSA, there is no known history of solvent abuse. This suggests that for many, the first time they try solvents is fatal. Although young people is often seen as the group most associated with solvent abuse, as many 25-35 year-olds die from solvent abuse as those under the age of 25.

In 60% of deaths from VSA, there is no known history of solvent abuse. This suggests that for many, the first time they try solvents is fatal.

For adults, the home was by far the most common place of fatal abuse, but for those under 18 years-old the fatal abuse was almost as likely to have been in a public place or someone else's home.

Solvent abusers can be male or female, although there are higher numbers of solvent-related deaths in boys. This may be due to differences in sniffing behaviour.

The 2003 annual report from the European Union's drug agency warned that after cannabis and alcohol, solvents are the substances most commonly used by those aged 15 and 16 in the EU, and in the UK one in seven 15 and 16 year-olds sniff solvents to get high.

How do people die?

Sniffing solvents may cause intoxication similar to the effects of alcohol. So a sniffer may become drowsy, confused, aggressive, may take more risks than they would when sober, and so on. Accidents are, therefore, quite common and sometimes fatal.

Over half of the deaths that have been linked to solvent sniffing appear to result from the direct toxic effects of the chemicals that were sniffed. But other deaths result from accidents, choking on vomit or suffocation.

Gas fuels continue to be associated with the majority of deaths. In 2006, butane lighter fuel accounted for two-thirds of VSA deaths (33 of the 49 deaths). Sniffing the butane gas in lighters causes the heart to beat irregularly which can induce a heart attack.

Updated: 10/09/2009

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