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Dangerous Highs

NCB have published a report on the hidden solvent abuse among children and young people.

The press release which accompanies the report is as follows:


Volatile substance abuse (VSA) is responsible for more deaths among children aged 10 to 16 in the UK than illegal drugs yet the problem remains hidden owing to prejudice and a lack of public awareness.


Dangerous Highs, a joint report from the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) and ChildLine, published today (Wednesday 22 June), reveals that children as young as 10 are inhaling solvents and flirting with death on a regular basis.


The report, which analyses over 350 calls made to ChildLine about VSA, shows that volatile substances are not used simply to get high. Often there are severe traumas as well as emotional and mental health problems that go unsupported and cause children to abuse volatile substances as a means of escape.


The accessibility of products found in every home in the country such as glue, paint, correcting fluid and nail varnish means VSA often begins at an early age, with children constantly finding new products to abuse. A girl sniffing nail varnish to block out the pain of her parents’ beatings and a boy ‘buzzing’ deodorant in a desperate attempt to fit in are among the experiences described to ChildLine counsellors. The report also shows that children already marginalised by society – such as children in care or in young offenders’ institutes – are particularly vulnerable to VSA.


The hidden and taboo nature of VSA is reinforced in Dangerous Highs. Children describe feeling scared and ashamed of their abuse of solvents. They therefore often use them alone where, if something goes wrong, there is a high chance death can occur as there is no-one around to help.


Report author Simon Blake, assistant director of children’s development at NCB, says: ‘In the 1980s everyone knew about the problem of glue sniffing but over the last 20 years it has slowly slipped from public view and has been forgotten. Yet VSA continues to cause death and harm to many. With children playing Russian roulette with their lives it is no longer tenable to ignore VSA.’


ChildLine chief executive Carole Easton says: ‘The accounts of children who call ChildLine about VSA are difficult and painful to read. It is crucial that we face up to the fact that children are abusing volatile substances to escape the pain their lives are causing them. ChildLine and NCB hope that publishing the Dangerous Highs report will put VSA back on the public agenda; these desperate and despairing young people driven to risk their health and lives deserve nothing less.’


NCB and ChildLine are calling for a range of measures including:

  • Legislation to minimise quantity of dangerous solvents in products
  • Continued work to regulate and reduce the supply of volatile substances
  • Emotional help for vulnerable children and young people, tackling the real issues behind their despair before volatile substances are even considered.
  • Professionals to be aware of the support available to those who do abuse volatile substances
  • Education on VSA to be included in drug education in schools and other settings – particularly those where vulnerable children and young people are living, such as YOI and residential homes
  • Education for parents and carers so they can identify VSA and feel confident in talking about it and the underlying reasons why it may occur

*Volatile Substances include hairspray, glue, nail varnish remover, deodorant, various aerosols and solvents. At 15% of all 15 – 16 year olds the UK has the highest level of solvent use in the EU.



Girl, 16

My step-brother abused me when I was just three. Dad said he knew it all along. Last month my stepbrother beat me. My mum says she wished I had never been born. I inhale lighter fluid, and cut and burn myself with cigarettes.


Boy, 15

I’m fed up with life. What’s the point? Life’s always boring. People judge me on my appearance. They say I’m fat, so I stopped eating. I thought about suicide and have overdosed before. I tried drinking and buzzing gas. Sometimes I want to die and other days I’m scared of dying.


Girl, 14

I’m totally useless. I can’t talk to anybody. I upset all my friends. Mum and dad are totally disappointed in me. I tried cannabis, solvents, and now I cut myself. I cut my feet and then I spray things in it to punish myself.


Boy, 16

I’m worried about my addiction – I like to sniff aerosols. I’ve run out of money and started shoplifting. I got into it two years ago when my mates were doing it at parties and on the streets. They used to tease me for not doing it.

Dangerous Highs costs £11.95 and is available from NCB Book Sales on 020 7843 6029 or via