Ministerial Statement Inhalant Substance Abuse
Tabled Paper 493
Tabled papers for 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001; Tabled papers; ParliamentNT
Tabled by Denis Burke
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2 The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the United States in its national survey of drug abuse among high school students in 1997 reported about seven per cent of high school seniors had been involved in inhalant abuse in the past year. 21 per cent of 8th graders reported using inhalants at least once in their lives. Indeed NIDA reports that initial use of inhalants often starts early with some young people using inhalants as a cheap, accessible substitute for alcohol. Their research suggests that chronic or long-term inhalant abusers are among the most difficult to treat and they may experience multiple psychological and social problems. Another US report refers to inhalant abuse amongst children as the silent epidemic with inhalants being the third most abused substances among 12 to 14-year-olds in the country coming in right behind alcohol and tobacco.. As many as one in five students in the US has tried inhalants by the time they reach the 7th grade. Recent reports in the UK indicate that substance abuse claims more teenage lives than heroin or party drugs such as Ecstasy. I have referred to these overseas examples primarily to indicate that this is not a unique Territory problem, or a unique Aboriginal youth problem. Sometimes I think we get a bit too close to issues. Yes, we have a problem; and, yes we must do something about it but the title of one report commissioned by THS on petrol sniffing in the Top End put it succinctly: Time to stop reinventing the wheel. Here in the Territory, it is estimated that the problem is currently more prevalent in Central Australia than elsewhere, although there are known to be some chronic sniffers in East Arnhem and sporadic outbreaks in other Top End communities. There is an increasing incidence of abuse in Alice Springs which is not limited to petrol sniffing but includes other inhalants such as glue and paint. Studies suggest that the problem in the Territory is cyclical but that the introduction of one dedicated sniffer to a community can lead to others succumbing. Apart from the immediate and disastrous long term health effects on the individuals, once you have a group sniffing, anti-social behaviour and even criminal activity can quickly follow. It is the combination of those two consequences - ill-health and anti-social behaviour - that has lead to inhalant abuse being considered as primarily a health or law and order issue. But there is clear evidence that the action available to prevent the incidence of petrol sniffing is within the province of a range of agencies other than Territory Health Services or the Police.