26 Jul 2013

Drug Foundation warns of scale of huffing deaths

10:27 pm on 26 July 2013

The Drug Foundation says the number of deaths of young people from inhaling solvents and gases could be higher than the number of deaths from alcohol poisoning.

The coroner in Christchurch, Sue Johnson, is calling on the Government to take urgent action to address the practice known as huffing. The practice has claimed 63 lives in the past 12 years, mostly teenagers.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell gave evidence at the inquest of two Christchurch teenagers and a 12-year-old boy, and says the problem is probably far more widespread than many realise.

"If we dig beneath the surface I think we'll find deaths from butane and LPG are at a much greater scale amongst young people than previously thought, particularly when we compare it to deaths from poisonings from alcohol."

He says the Ministry of Social Development is best placed to bring retailers and health providers together to address the problem.

Sue Gold's son Sam died of a heart attack after inhaling butane gas at their home in Christchurch.

She says unlike many of those who have died from huffing, the 19-year-old was happy and had plenty to look forward to, but, like many teenagers, felt he was invincible.

Ms Gold says more help needs to be provided for parents who suspect their children are huffing.