News Release

Deaths from volatile substance abuse drop in the UK

Deaths from volatile substance abuse in 2003 fell to 51, the lowest annual total since 1980

Peer-Reviewed Publication

St. George's University of London

A report released today by the Division of Community Health Sciences at St George's, University of London, reveals that in 2003 there were 51 deaths in the UK associated with volatile substance abuse. This is the lowest annual total recorded since 1983. The report "Trends in Death Associated with Abuse of Volatile Substances 1971-2003", which was prepared for the Department of Health, describes trends in death associated with the abuse of gas fuels, aerosols, glues and other solvent based products.

In 2003, butane from all sources, predominantly in the form of cigarette lighter refills accounted for 40 of the 51 deaths. Five of the adult deaths were associated with the anaesthetic agents isoflurane and sevoflurane.

Of the nine volatile substance abuse deaths in under-18 year olds in 2003, six were associated with butane cigarette lighter refills, the sale of which to under-18s is prohibited by legislation. In 2002, there were 24 deaths in under 18 year olds, of which 15 were associated with butane cigarette lighter refills.

Deaths were generally sudden and in 2003 were three times more common in males than females. For both adults and children volatile substance abuse leading to death usually took place in the home.


Anyone with concerns about volatile substance abuse can contact Re-Solv's free helpline on 0808 800 2345 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, or at the website:

Parents and young people seeking advice can call FRANK in confidence on 0800 77 66 00 or visit Resource material is available from the FRANK campaign hotline 870-155-5455, or from the Website

In Scotland, parents and young people seeking advice can phone 0800 587 5879 or log on to

Notes for editors

1. Tables which illustrate the press release can be obtained by e-mailing For a FULL COPY of the report compiled by St George's, University of London, entitled, 'Trends in Death Associated with Abuse of Volatile Substances 1971-2003' contact Mary Field-Smith, tel: 44-208-725-0843, fax: 44-208-725-3584, e-mail:

The report is also available on the internet at (NOTE: Report 18 will be live from 0900 on Wednesday 20 July 2005. Until then Report 17 for the deaths in 2002 is on this site)

2. For more information on the report contact:
Mary Field-Smith, VSA Mortality Study, Division of Community Health Sciences, St George's, University of London, tel: 020 8725 0843, fax: 44-208-725-3584, e-mail: or John Ramsey, Director of TICTAC Communications Ltd, St George's, University of London, tel: 44-208-672-1006/44-208-725-5883/07774 138061, fax: 44-208-725-5892, e-mail:

3. The Department of Health (DH) continues to be greatly concerned by the deaths from VSA. In partnership with the Home Office, Department for Education and Skills and in consultation with key stakeholders, including the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association, the National Children's Bureau, Re-Solv (the Society for the Prevention of Solvent and Volatile Substance Abuse) and St George's, University of London, the Department of Health has led the development of a new Framework for addressing VSA. The framework is also supported by the Department of Trade and Industry.

4. Government is working to ensure that children and young people learn within drug education in school as well as other settings about the risks of VSA, and how they can keep themselves and others safe. DH funds St George's, University of London, to collect data and monitor trends in deaths associated with VSA. It also funds and works with non-government organisations to support the development of VSA policy and practice.

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