The epidemiology of deaths from volatile substance abuse (VSA) in those under 18 years that occurred in the UK from 1981-90 is described. The analysis of deaths is based on a national register, which has information obtained from a regular survey of coroners, the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, and a press clippings agency. Altogether 605 people under 18 died from VSA during this period. Seventy per cent of deaths occurred between the ages of 14 and 16. The largest number of deaths were attributed to butane gas lighter refills. There was a large north-south gradient in age specific mortality ratios (Scotland 180, south east England 87) and nearly four times as many deaths occurred in social class V compared with social class I. Deaths from VSA are an important and preventable cause of deaths in those under 18. Strategies aimed at prevention should include measures to reduce experimentation, intervention to reduce socioeconomic deprivation, and health education campaigns aimed at schools and parents.
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