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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK


Health: Latest News

Solvent deaths on the increase

Hair spray - just one fo the substances inhaled by young people

More than six people a month are dying after inhaling glue, aerosols and gases, according to new Department of Health figures.

The statistics, compiled by St George's Hospital Medical School in London, show that the number of deaths caused by solvent abuse rose between 1995 and 1996 from 69 to 75. Most victims were aged between 14 and 18.

Cigarette lighter refills were responsible for over half the deaths. Glue and aerosols led to between 6.5 and 14% of deaths. The majority died after inhaling fumes at home.

The array of substances inhaled included air fresheners, hair spray and bicycle tyre repair glue.

Russian roulette

Jennifer Taylor, research manager at St George's, said many of the deaths were unnecessary. "Like Russian roulette, some die and some don't," she said.

"Because someone has used them once or twice, they should never assume that they are free from risk. All these deaths are preventable."

Surveys show that up to 9% of all school children have inhaled solvents, but the majority only try them once or twice. Since they slow down the heart rate and breathing, they can cause suffocation and heart failure. If they are inhaled in a plastic bag, suffocation is a higher risk. Many also contain dangerous chemicals.

The long-term effects include kidney and liver damage. Lighter fuel is one of the most dangerous solvents because it cools the throat tissues and causes them to swell, creating breathing difficulties.

Tell-tale signs

The Health Education Authority is issuing a booklet, A Parent's Guide to Drugs and Alcohol, to warn parents to look out for signs of solvent abuse.


[ image: Inhaling solvents can cause suffocation and heart failure]
Inhaling solvents can cause suffocation and heart failure
These include drunkenness or dizziness, clothes and breath that smell of chemicals, continuous headaches and sore throats and irritable behaviour.

Geof Webb, the HEA's drugs campaign manager, said many young people inhaled fumes for "a cheap thrill" since the products used were easy to find around the home or are cheap to buy.

"It can be difficult for parents to identify a child who is using them. The best advice is to be vigilant."

The Department of Health says parents worried about their children can ring a trained counsellor on the National Drugs Helpline on 0800 667700.



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