Deaths related to volatile substances and helium

03 April 2018

Article: 52/1304

Volatile substance abuse (VSA) is defined by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) as ‘the deliberate inhalation of volatile compounds to produce psychoactive effects’. Terms such as ‘glue sniffing’ and ‘solvent abuse’ have been used previously to define VSA, but are now regarded as inadequate descriptions of the range of substances abused. Volatile substances include, but are not limited to: fuel gases, aerosol propellants, some types of industrial glues, nitrous oxide, alkyl nitrites (known as ‘poppers’) and some anaesthetics.

This report describes trends in deaths involving volatile substances registered between 2001 and 2016 in Great Britain. Although helium, an inert gas, is not a volatile substance, the latter sections of this report describe trends in helium-related deaths.

The report shows that:

  • in 2016, there were 64 deaths related to volatile substances registered in Great Britain
  • over 80% of these volatile substance abuse (VSA) deaths were males
  • there were 834 deaths involving volatile substances registered between 2001 and 2016
  • the mortality rate has remained similar throughout the time period, with one VSA-related death per million population in 2016
  • residents of Scotland and North East England had an increased risk of death related to VSA, when compared with Great Britain overall
  • there were 69 deaths involving helium in 2016 and 509 helium deaths in total between 2001 and 2016
  • helium-related deaths have increased over time, with a mortality rate of one death per million population in 2016

Source: ONS Release, 26 March 2018