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Coroner’s report shows 63 deaths from butane huffing

Thursday 13 Sep 2012 2:07 p.m.

By Lloyd Burr

An alarming report into butane abuse has been released by the chief coroner.

It shows 63 people have died as a result of intentionally inhaling butane in the last 12 years with the majority of victims being young men.

Eighty-seven percent of those killed were under the age of 24 and 77 percent of the victims were male.

The youngest person was only 12 years old and the oldest 76, with the second oldest being 32.

Chief coroner Neil MacLean says the problem is bigger than he first thought and the figures highlight an ‘unpalatable truth’ of substance abuse.

“The dead teenagers are a lost generation. These are primarily kids dying before they’ve even got to have a life,” he says.

Nearly half of all victims were Maori, and nearly 20 percent of all victims were Maori females.

Mr MacLean says it is an extraordinarily hard problem to fix with no silver bullet.

“There is a culture of abuse and we don’t pretend to have the answers,” he says.

“They are snuffed out at their developmental state and it’s worrying, like youth suicide.”

Butane-based substances are readily available in shops but a ban is not realistic, says Mr MacLean.

“Putting an impossible policing burden on retailers is just unrealistic – it’s not really their problem, it’s our problem.”

He says a voluntary buy-in by retailers could be more effective.

The Drug Foundation’s executive director Ross Bell says the ‘huffing’ phenomenon is one of the most challenging areas to address.

“Users are typically young with easy access to common household products which makes attempts to restrict the supply of volatile substances almost impossible,” he says.

Mr Bell says one way to address the issue is to increase the support role of schools.

Numbers over the 12-year period fluctuate with no clear trends, he says.

“Deaths are random and users can die on the first time they do it or the fiftieth time,” Judge MacLean says.

He says its not just the lethal consequences of huffing that worry him.

“The kids who don’t die have impaired brains. Other nasty things happen like you get frostbite in your mouth,” he says.

THE FIGURES

  • 55 were under the age of 24
  • 24 were under the age of 17
  • Youngest was 12
  • Oldest was 76
  • Second oldest 32
  • 49 were male
  • 30 were Maori

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