Deaths after huffing triggers abnormal heart beats

CHILD: Darius Claxton was just 12 when he died.
CHILD: Darius Claxton was just 12 when he died.

Three Christchurch youths dropped dead from heart failure after inhaling butane, a coroner says.

An inquest into the deaths of Darius Claxton, 12, Poihaere Eru, 17, and Samuel Gold, 19, found they suffered acute cardiac arrhythmia because of the toxic effects of butane.

In November 2010, Gold died at his home after "huffing" butane, collapsing after he ran down the stairs.

Darius died in an New Brighton car park on May 4 last year he inhaled butane and jumped on a parked truck and a fence, while Eru collapsed after running across grass in a Riccarton reserve three months later, just after inhaling the substance.

Forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage, who carried out the post mortems, warned that butane could not only kill people  as they used the substance, but also after they had stopped.

It acted on their heart muscle cells and disrupted the normal heart rhythm causing a spontaneous "rogue" rhythm, which could quickly lead to sudden cardiac death.

The danger was that each time butane was huffed there was a risk of the user developing an abnormal heart rhythm.

It did not matter how many times the person had huffed before, the risk was there every time, Sage said.

''That makes it really hard to predict whether it's going to be safe this time you use it...So that's why [butane] is a real wild card...compared to some of the other recreational substances that are being used in the community.''

Coroner Sue Johnson recommended the Government include volatile substances abuse, in particular butane, within the Children's Action Plan, which the Ministry of Social Development is working on with the aim of protecting vulnerable children.

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said trying to prevent and reduce harm from volatile substance abuse, compared to other drugs, was complex.

That was largely because they were legal, readily available, cheap and an experimental drug which made identifying those at risk difficult.

Bell also felt there was a lack of awareness of the dangers of huffing butane, including by young people and even health professionals.

Inhaling butane has claimed the lives of 63 New Zealanders between 2000 and 2012. Of those, 55 were under 24 years of age, with Claxton the youngest.

The Press