Even one huff can kill, warns victim's mum

Butane cans scattered in a park indicate people huffing, which has killed a number of young people recently.
Butane cans scattered in a park indicate people huffing, which has killed a number of young people recently.

The mother of a Christchurch huffing victim wants butane pulled off dairy shelves after a coroner found it caused heart problems which led to the teenager's death.

Sue Gold's 19-year-old son Sam ran down the stairs of the family home on November 8, 2010, screaming "the house is spinning". He then collapsed. His father Darryl and paramedics were unable to revive him.

Sam Gold is among 63 young Kiwis to die from inhaling butane between 2000 to 2012.

A coroner's inquest into the deaths of Sam Gold and two other Christchurch huffing victims, Darius Claxton, 12, and Poihaere Eru, 17, found they died from acute cardiac arrhythmia caused by inhaling butane.

Claxton died in May 2011 after sniffing butane with friends in a suburban car park. Eru died last August while huffing butane in an Upper Riccarton park.

Among Coroner Sue Johnson's recommendations, made public yesterday, was to make the product harder for teens to access.

Gold backed Ms Johnson's recommendation, saying butane should be treated like spray paint and kept locked away.

It was camping equipment and should therefore be limited to hardware stores, rather than be easily available in dairies.

Gold said young people needed to realise they were not "bulletproof". Trying huffing even once put their lives at risk. "It could be your first time and your last," she said. Forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage, who carried out post-mortem examinations on the three victims, warned that each time butane was huffed there was a risk of the user developing an abnormal or "rogue" rhythm to their hearts.

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," he said.

"So that's why [butane] is a real wild card . . . compared to some of the other recreational substances being used in the community."

Ms Johnson recommended the Government include volatile substances abuse, in particular butane, within the Children's Action Plan - a Ministry of Social Development project to protect vulnerable children. However, New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said trying to prevent and reduce harm from volatile substance abuse, compared with other drugs, was complex.

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

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

Paediatrician and the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee chairman Dr Nick Baker warned butane abuse could not only kill but may result in brain shrinkage, memory loss, blindness, tremor and dementia.

The Press