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Volatile Substance Abuse returns to Cumbria

In spring 2017 someone contacted CADAS to let us know about a group of Year 6 pupils (age 10-11) in the Barrow area inhaling butane gas.


We quickly developed a Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) awareness workshop and took it out to local schoolchildren and also to professionals including teachers, police and other support services, just before the summer holidays. We wanted to raise awareness about the potentially fatal consequences so that young people, and those supporting them, could make more informed choices.


Until this point it seemed that VSA had gone out of fashion. It was prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s but in the late 1980s media attention turned to the use of illegal drugs, rather than substances that could be bought over the counter, and in particular the rising popularity of ecstasy.


I myself had not had a single client who was looking for support with volatile substances. However, when I started looking into it further I found that there were still about 52 deaths a year from VSA including young people, the youngest recorded as having been only 7 years old. So I decided to contact Re-Solv, who specialise in the area, and they came and delivered some excellent training to our countywide staff and volunteers. That in turn led to us modifying our assessment process so that we now make sure to pick up on clients’ VSA, past or present.


So what’s the situation now? Sadly, since the isolation measures for the pandemic have been in force, Re-Solv have reported a rise in calls for help with Volatile Substance Abuse.


There could be many reasons for this. Young people who are unable to socialise during the lockdown may start to experiment with butane gas and other things like deodorants and hairspray because they are so readily available in the home environment.


For older people solvents are often used as a poly drug, with alcohol or other substances, and with the travel restrictions and police presence on the motorways access to illegal drugs has been limited to some extent. This should be good news but not for people who are substance dependant, who may have to turn to, or increase their use of, volatile substances as a result. And social restrictions, lack of contact with family, furlough or loss of work and lack of finances, closure of support services, decline in mental health and being unable to use resources that people have found useful for their recovery, for example the gym, are all playing their part, too.


Solvents are cheap and easily accessible and may be a quick fix under the circumstances. But there is no safe way to use solvents. They can cause death instantly. SSDS (sudden sniffing death syndrome) is unique to VSA and can happen at any point during use.


For more information, including helplines for adults, young people and the parents of VS users, go to:


To refer in to CADAS for group or one-to-one support, as a user or a parent/carer/family member of a user, call our countywide number: 0300 111 4002.


Kerry Crossman, CADAS Recovery Support Worker and Trainer

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