Characteristics and circumstances of volatile solvent misuse-related death in Australia, 2000-2021


Introduction:

Volatile solvent misuse-related death is associated with neuropsychiatric, cardiovascular, respiratory and renal pathology, as well as sudden death. The study aimed to determine: (1) the circumstances of death and case characteristics of volatile solvent misuse-related death in Australia, 2000-2021; (2) the toxicological profile of cases; and (3) the major autopsy findings.


Methods:

Retrospective study of volatile solvent misuse-related death in Australia, 2000-2021 retrieved from the National Coronial Information System.


Findings:

One hundred and sixty-four cases were identified, 79.9% male, mean age 26.5 years (8.5% aged 40 years or older). Circumstances of death were unintentional toxicity (61.0%), unintentional asphyxia (20.1%), intentional self-harm (12.2%) and traumatic accident (6.7%). The most commonly reported acute presentation prior to death was sudden collapse (22 of 47 witnessed events). The most frequently used solvents at the fatal incident were gas fuels (35.4%), gasoline (petrol) (19.5%) adhesives/paints (19.5%), aerosol propellants (12.8%), and volatile anaesthetics (12.8%). The most commonly detected volatile substances were butane (40.7%), toluene (29.6%), and propane (25.9%). Cannabis was present in 27.6% and alcohol in 24.6%. The prevalence of acute pneumonia amongst autopsied cases was low (5.8%) which, together with reports of sudden collapse, suggests that in many cases, death was extremely rapid. There were low levels of major organ pathology.


Conclusions:

While the average age of volatile solvent misuse-related death was in the mid-twenties, a substantial proportion occurred amongst people aged 40 years or older. Reflecting availability, gas fuels predominated. In many cases, death appeared to have been rapid.

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