Volatile substance misuse means to deliberately inhale or ingest a substance such as paint, glue or petrol to get a high. It is commonly known as inhaling, chroming, chuffing or sniffing.
Volatile substance misuse, particularly petrol sniffing, has been a long-term problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. However, it is also a problem in other parts of Queensland for non-Indigenous people. While petrol sniffing is most common in remote communities, glue and spray paints are the more common substances misused in urban areas.
While it is an important social issue which the government is addressing, fortunately, only a small number of people in Queensland misuse volatile substances.
Who misuses volatile substances?
People who misuse volatile substances are usually aged between 10 and 16 years. However, some adults also do it.
These people are likely to use other drugs, have often been subjected to physical and sexual abuse and neglect and are often homeless and disconnected from education and social support systems.
People usually engage in this activity in public spaces such as parks, shopping centres, railway stations and in business districts. It also occurs in private dwellings.
There are a number of indicators to look for to identify a potential volatile substance misuser:
- smell or traces of volatile substances, eg. paint on a person's clothes
- red and watering eyes and a runny nose
- blushing colouring to the skin
- reddening spots or rash around the mouth and nose
- uncontrolled excessive giggling, rowdy, silly or aggressive behaviour
- appearing to be drunk or falling over
- confusion or disorientation
- having an empty soft drink container, particularly if it is stained with paint.
Health effects of misusing volatile substances
Like other drugs and substance abuse, the use of volatile substances ranges from occasional experimental or social use to chronic use. Chronic users of volatile substances are often incoherent, aggressive and difficult to negotiate with when under the influence of these substances.
While the high achieved from inhaling substances only lasts about five to 10 minutes, it has long-term health impacts. These include chronic headache, hearing loss, bone marrow damage, sinusitis, chest pain or angina, depression, stomach ulcers and toxic damage to organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and brain.
Injuries are also common for occasional and chronic users and can include burns from spraying inhalants directly into the mouth.
There have been deaths from petrol sniffing in Australia related to asphyxiation and from cardiac arrest or 'sudden sniffing syndrome'.
Places of safety for users
The department provides people with places of safety to recover from the effects of volatile substance intoxication. At these places, people are also referred to support services.
These places have been designed for people who do not require emergency medical attention, but can not be returned to the care of a family member or friend due to the unavailability or inappropriateness of such a placement. The places of safety operate after hours and provide emergency accommodation if necessary.
Places of safety have been set up in inner-Brisbane, Logan, Mt Isa, Townsville, Cairns, Caboolture and Rockhampton.