Deaths associated with inhalant abuse in Virginia from 1987 to 1996

Drug Alcohol Depend. 1999 Feb 1;53(3):239-45. doi: 10.1016/s0376-8716(98)00139-2.


Inhalant abuse has existed for a considerable period of time and it is currently one of the most prevalent drug abuse problems in the world. One repercussion from using these compounds is that abuse may result in lethality. In an attempt to better understand the deaths associated with inhalant abuse, the authors surveyed the death records from the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1987 to 1996. Examination of the state records identified 39 deaths related to inhalant abuse during this time period. While no significant increase or decrease in the death rate was observed across the time period investigated, all regions of Virginia were affected, with the rates being highest in the northern and eastern regions of the state. Age of death ranged from 13 to 42 years with the majority of deaths (70%) occurring at 22 years of age or younger. Ninety-five per cent of the individuals were male, with volatile substance abuse deaths accounting for 0.3% of all deaths in males aged 13-22 years. The chief volatile substances used were gas fuels (46%), predominately butane and propane, chlorofluorocarbons (26%), chlorinated hydrocarbons and alkylbenzenes (21%), and other volatile substances including volatile anesthetics. Deaths associated with the abuse of butane and toluene were more likely to be traumatic, but all substances appeared capable of killing directly by their toxic effects, probably through cardiac and/or respiratory mechanisms. The ramifications of these findings for regulation and prevention are addressed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Butanes / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrous Oxide / adverse effects*
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / mortality*
  • Toluene / adverse effects*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Virginia / epidemiology


  • Butanes
  • Toluene
  • Nitrous Oxide