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Inhalant Deaths in South Australia: A 20-Year Retrospective Autopsy Study

Wick, Regula*; Gilbert, John D.*; Felgate, Peter*; Byard, Roger W.*†

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: December 2007 - Volume 28 - Issue 4 - p 319-322
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31815b48b0
Original Article

A 20-year retrospective study of inhalant deaths in South Australia, autopsied at Forensic Science SA, was undertaken from January 1983 to December 2002. Thirty-nine cases were identified from an autopsy pool of 18,880 cases, with a male to female ratio of 12:1. Sixty-four percent of the victims (N = 25) died during voluntary inhalation of volatile substances and 28% (N = 11) committed suicide utilizing a volatile substance or gas. The remaining 3 cases involved a workplace accident (N = 1) and 2 cases of autoerotic death where inhalants were being used to augment solitary sexual activity. The mean age of the 28 victims of accidental inhalant death of 21 years (range, 13–45 years) was considerably less than that of the 11 suicide victims of 31.5 years (range, 17–48 years). No homicides were found. Approximately one quarter of the victims were Aboriginal (N = 11), 10 of whom had died as a result of gasoline inhalation (“petrol sniffing”). Other common substances of abuse were aliphatic hydrocarbons such as butane. The study has shown that those most at risk for accidental or suicidal inhalant deaths were young males, with 92% of victims overall being male, and with 77% of victims being under 31 years of age. Gasoline inhalation remains a significant problem in Aboriginal communities in South Australia.

From the *Forensic Science SA, Adelaide, Australia; and †Discipline of Pathology, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.

Manuscript received January 18, 2006; accepted March 31, 2006.

Regula Wick was a visiting fellow in Forensic Pathology, Forensic Science SA, Adelaide, Australia.

Reprints: Prof. Roger W. Byard, Discipline of Pathology, Level 3 Medical School North Building, The University of Adelaide, Frome Road, Adelaide 5005, Australia. E-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.