Managing volatile substance use (VSU) intoxication is crucial for the safety of community members and the health and well-being of the volatile substance user. However, determining whether a person is intoxicated as a result of inhaling volatile substances can be an issue for police.
As signs of VSU intoxication can appear similar to those of other substances, or even a range of other medical, emotional or psychological conditions, it can be difficult to decide on the most appropriate response based on an initial assessment.
Police are advised to approach those who may have been inhaling volatile substances with caution and not to chase or startle them unnecessarily. This is due to the risk of sudden sniffing death that may result from physical exertion or high levels of anxiety whilst intoxicated. For more information, see the Harms page of this website.
It is also important for police to have a relatively low threshold in the decision making processes concerning whether to refer volatile substances users to medical assistance (Australasian Centre for Policing Research, 2004), as acute VSU intoxication can result in a loss of consciousness, seizures or convulsions leading to overdose and death.
VSU intoxication reduces inhibitions and impairs judgement in a similar way to alcohol. Therefore, the risk of death or injury amongst volatile substance users from accidents, falls, drowning, burns and explosions is high. For more information about the effects of intoxication and how to manage intoxicated individuals, see the Intoxication pages of this website.
Intoxication management in the custodial setting also requires the understanding of potential withdrawal symptoms to ensure medical assistance is sought when needed. For more information about withdrawal effects, see the Effects page of this website.
To reduce the risk of injury or death, police are able to confiscate volatile substance products and take intoxicated people to a safe place under provisions of the Protective Custody Act 2000. For more information about the Protective Custody Act, see the Western Australian law page of this website.
In some settings, options for a safe place to take young people may be limited. This highlights the importance of establishing local protocols for intoxication management in conjunction with local services.