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Communities need to be better supported to address the serious issue of volatile substance abuse (VSA), the New Zealand Drug Foundation said today following the release of the Chief Coroner’s report into recent volatile substance deaths.

The Coroner’s report highlights the scale of the problems with over 60 deaths in the past 12 years, 55 of which were of people under 24 years old. Of particular concern to the Drug Foundation is that 30 of the 63 deaths were Maori, and that of the 14 female deaths, 12 were Maori.

“The Chief Coroner’s report is a stark wake-up call to us all that sitting on our hands should no longer be the primary response to this problem,” said New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell.

“Sadly, previous Coroners’ recommendations have been ignored and even some government agencies have passed the buck. That cannot be allowed to continue.

“The Coroner’s report gives us all the opportunity to refocus our efforts to ensure vulnerable young people are provided earlier support and easier access to help.

“This remains one of the most challenging areas of drug harm reduction efforts. Users are typically young with easy access to common household products. This makes attempts to restrict the supply of volatile substances almost impossible.

“However, this does not mean we should ignore the issue. Rather, we need an increased political response,” said Mr Bell.

Research from the New Zealand Drug Foundation indicates that VSA impacts are concentrated in our most vulnerable communities.

“One of the most effective ways to address VSA harm in our most vulnerable communities is to increase the support role schools play.

“Important strategies include working to keep young people in school, increasing the reach of health agencies and social workers in schools, and connecting schools with treatment providers.”

Mr Bell said that the Government’s response needs to have a broader reach than just retailers and a sharpened focus on health and the community.

“We have learned from working with the Coroner that focussing on educating retailers in regards to VSA is important, but is not enough.

“The Drug Foundation has stepped up to provide an online resource to raise awareness and provide support tools to communities who need help in addressing this problem.

“Volatilesubstances.org.nz is the first step in a wider programme to more comprehensively address VSA harm.

“It’s time to talk about VSA and our website will get the conversation going.”

The website can be accessed at www.volatilesubstances.org.nz

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