To read this content please select one of the options below:

Silent deaths: a commentary on new mortality data relating to volatile substance abuse in Great Britain

Victoria Leigh (Re-Solv, Stone, UK)
Sarah MacLean (School of Community and Clinical Allied Health, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 7 January 2019

Issue publication date: 5 April 2019




The purpose of this paper is to provide a commentary on new information from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on deaths caused by volatile substance abuse (VSA) in Great Britain which occurred between 2001 and 2016.


Comparing the new study with previous mortality data, the authors consider the strengths and some limitations of the analysis provided by ONS.


By utilising a broader range of codes and collating additional information from death certificates, the new report provides a more comprehensive measure of VSA mortality than was previously available, showing increasing prevalence of deaths. The age profile of people dying is older than in previous studies. Most deaths were associated with inhalation of gases and almost three-quarters of deaths involved volatile substances alone.

Practical implications

Understanding VSA mortality is essential for service planning. It is important that we identify why so many people whose deaths are associated with VSA are not accessing treatment, with particular concern about treatment access for those who only use volatiles. Training to support drug and alcohol and other health service staff to respond to VSA is essential. In future reports, data to identify socioeconomic correlations of VSA deaths would enable targeted responses. Additionally, information on whether deaths occur in long term rather than episodic or one-off users could enable risk reduction education.


This paper shows how data on VSA deaths may inform for policy and service planning.



Leigh, V. and MacLean, S. (2019), "Silent deaths: a commentary on new mortality data relating to volatile substance abuse in Great Britain", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 86-96.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles