‘Youngsters don’t realise inhalants are dangerous’
There is a worrying and growing trend among young people who use inhalants, such as lighter fuel, to escape personal problems, according to George Grech, who heads the Government’s rehabilitation agency Sedqa.
Amanda Caruana, president of the Malta PSD Association, agreed and said some teenagers started experimenting with inhalants even at primary school age.
“Some sniff as a way of getting high to seek refuge from social problems they have or just for sheer experimentation,” she said.
Dr Grech added: “The youngsters who inhale to experiment make up the majority.
“What worries us is the increasing numbers of adolescents who are not only after the buzz but might be self-treating themselves. They are using it as a means of escape and as a therapy.”
The use of inhalants among young people was brought to public attention following the death of 14-year-old Shanice Muscat last Friday.
The police believe she was sniffing lighter fuel when she fainted and died of cardiac arrest soon afterwards.
Toxicology tests still have to confirm whether the sudden heart problem was triggered by inhaling the butane gas in the lighter refill.
That would make her the first person in Malta whose death was caused by sniffing inhalants.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the use of inhalants among teenagers who see it as a cheap and accessible way of getting high.
Dr Grech said more prevention was needed. Education was key in getting through to adolescents and their parents to transmit the potential danger of inhalants, which many mistakenly thought were harmless.
Ms Caruana said the fact that lighter fuel was easily available to buy made teenagers feel there was no illegality and, therefore, they were not doing anything wrong by sniffing it.
PSD lessons tried to address this by educating students that all drugs were harmful.
But things are about to change and the Government is working on a new law banning the sale of inhalants to under-18s.
Dr Grech noted that such a ban had reduced the mortality rate in the UK.
However, he warned: “Buying over the internet has opened a market that will be very difficult to control.”
Dr Grech cautioned that, while inhalant use was a problem, one must keep in mind that alcohol remained the biggest threat to adolescents.
Over the years, the severity of social issues faced by young people increased and some resorted to drugs.
Social worker Liana Bonnici, who works with young people at the Youth in Focus programme offered by the Government support agency Appoġġ, said she and her colleagues had seen a rise in inhalant use.
She had come across 13-year-olds sniffing and some had a collection of social issues.
Ms Bonnici believed one of the most important tools to fight this problem was strong communication channels at home.
It was important that parents listened to their children from a young age and kept their eyes open for any sudden, drastic change in behaviour.
What are inhalants?
Inhalants are products containing chemicals that, when inhaled, cause a feeling of euphoria or disorientation. They include gasoline, lighter fluid, paint thinner – all commonly found in households.
Effects are felt quickly, within minutes, and may last up to an hour. Repeated sniffing may cause leukaemia or permanent damage to the nervous system, liver, lungs, brain, kidney, blood and bone marrow.
Inhalant use can also lead to heart failure, suffocation, brain damage and death.
For help, call Appoġġ’s support line 179.