Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean
Do New Zealanders rate damage to their property more than
the lives of young people?
That's the question asked by Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean
following the release yesterday of a hard-hitting report on
huffing-related deaths. Sixty-three people have died in
butane inhalation-related incidents since 2000.
Community angst over graffiti prompted the Government to
introduce a range of preventive measures in 2008; including
restricting the sale of spraycans to minors.
However, coroner recommendations concerning huffing -
including a public education campaign, introducing nationwide
substance abuse centres, specialist drug training for
teachers and regulating the availability of products that
could be abused - have prompted little or no response from
government agencies, according to Judge MacLean.
"It raises an interesting question: do we rate property more
than we do life?"
Judge MacLean's report was prompted following an incident
where two Mosgiel teenagers suffered serious burns after an
lpg bottle they were huffing from exploded on July 2.
"It was the final straw. I fully confess the issue was not
high on my radar as an area of particular concern until that
happened," Judge MacLean said.
"When we started to look into it, I realised the problem was
bigger than I appreciated."
His report highlighted the huffing deaths in New Zealand
since 2000, but the "hidden iceberg" was the overall impact
on young people.
"What we don't really know is the vastly more substantial
number who have got brain impaired function, or simply
because of constantly using this stuff aren't managing well,
dropping out of school, not able to hold down a job, losing
friendship, and alienated from their parents."
Judge MacLean said government agencies were best placed to
act on the contents of the report.
"This is an insidious and extremely dangerous activity that
is predominantly killing young males."
His review looked at other countries - such as in North
America, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom - and New
Zealand did not compare well in terms of preventing huffing
"We can hardly hold our hand up and say we're leading the
charge on dealing with this. We're not," Judge MacLean said.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said yesterday she
was not convinced her ministry should lead any such response,
while Minister of Health Tony Ryall had not read the report.
The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee has repeated
calls for an inter-agency approach to prevent volatile
substance abuse-related deaths.
Chairman Dr Nick Baker said a co-ordinated approach across
many sectors was needed, including reducing sales and access
to butane-based products, voluntary control of butane by
retailers, and education strategies.
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said
the report served as a "wake-up call".
"Sadly, previous coroners' recommendations have been ignored
and even some government agencies have passed the buck. That
cannot be allowed to continue," Mr Bell said.
• 63 deaths since 2000.
• More than 75% were male.
• Almost 50% were Maori.
• More than 87% were aged under 24 years.
• Youngest: 12-year-old boy.
• Oldest: 76-year-old man