Jun 17


Drug Education – Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA)

Drug education (or the lack of it) is failing our young people. Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA), otherwise known as solvent abuse, glue-sniffing or huffing, is the second most commonly abused drug after cannabis in young people. More children and young people die each year from VSA than from all the other illegal drugs put together. According to the VSA Prevention Organisation, Solve It, the youngest person to die from VSA was just seven years old, and the oldest was 80 years old. Moreover, research shows that the vast majority of drug users admit that solvent abuse was their stepping stone to illegal drugs. Clearly, more drug education is necessary to reduce this problem.

So how can drug education help?

Drug education is key to preventing children from becoming engaged in ‘experimenting’ with drugs. This occurs initially out of curiosity because without being provided with the bare facts there is little to stop them toying with such dangers. Drug education and information regarding solvent abuse to young people must be delivered in a sensitive and responsible manner. Providing too little drug information can be just as fatal as providing too much: Listing in detail what exact substances to misuse and how to do so is like providing them with a drug user’s manual, whilst not providing any warning at all could result in young people failing to recognise the dangers.

A report by St Georges University in July 2007 detailed the latest statistics regarding deaths associated with abuse of volatile substances between 1971 – 2005. It summarises key findings of 45 deaths associated with VSA in 2005 bringing the recorded total of deaths since 1971 to a staggering 2,198 in the UK alone. In under 18’s, the number of deaths were equal between male and female, but in over 18’s, there were four more times as many male deaths as that of females.

What solvents can be abused?

One of the problems is that these substances of abuse are easily accessible because they are legally available and inexpensive. Many household, office and automotive products contain solvents and propellants used as inhalants. It is estimated that the average household contains between 30 – 50 products that can be abused. These include lighter fluid, paint and paint thinners, computer keyboard spray cleaner, typewriter correction fluid, permanent marker pens, nail varnish remover and aerosols.

How are volatile substances abused?

No specialist equipment such as needles or pipes are required to administer the drugs. The vapours are usually inhaled from products either directly from open containers of solvent or directly from spray canisters and in the case of gases, by using a plastic bag placed over the nose and mouth, or inhaled through a rag.

Testing for volatile solvent abuse

There are currently no home drug testing kits to test for volatile substance abuse but signs and symptoms of VSA may be a strong smell of solvents on clothes, skin and breath and, after prolonged use, the redness known as ‘glue-sniffers rash’ around the mouth and nose. As with other forms of drug abuse, other symptoms may include an increase in anti-social behaviour and crime, periods of depression and other emotional imbalances, absenteeism from school or work and a withdrawal from friends and family.

Drug Education: Is solvent abuse addictive?

Whilst glue-sniffing is not generally regarded as physically addictive compared to illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin, it can be psychologically addictive and certainly carries severe physical dangers: ‘Sudden sniffing death’ is unique to VSA. This is a catastrophic and very sudden heart failure resulting in immediate death and frequently occurs in people who have never sniffed a volatile substance before.

Drug Education: The symptoms of volatile solvent abuse

In the short term, inhalers may experience slurred speech, headaches, vomiting, wheezing, loss of motor co-ordination and hallucinations. Dangers always present with solvent abuse include aspiration of vomit and hypoxia which is where the body is deprived of sufficient oxygen: This is particularly prevalent in the inhalation of butane or gasoline vapours. Of the 45 people who died in 2005 in the UK from VSA, 80 percent of the deaths were associated with butane. In the longer term, use can cause damage to kidneys, liver and the brain, as well as hearing loss and central nervous system problems.

Many adults will remember as children idly having a sniff of a pot of glue or liquid paper at school just because it ‘smelled funny’. This ‘innocent’ moment at school can be a defining moment of a young person’s life – to sniff or not to sniff – and their decision will be largely influenced by their drug education. The good news is that since 1992, raised awareness has resulted in a significant fall in deaths from volatile substance abuse but, while the fact remains that one person in the UK still dies from VSA every week, increasing awareness of drug abuse through drug education is essential, whether young people receive this in the classroom or at home from their parents.

Visit our home drug tests FAQ page for more information – or our drug information page for details on other drugs. Alternatively, visit our tackling drug addiction for friends and families page for support, advice and information. Alcohol information is also available, given that it is arguably the greatest of all gateway drugs.

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Jun 09

Cocaine Information – Facts, Signs and Symptoms

Cocaine information: Drug addiction can transcend all social and economic divides. In fact, drug addiction does not differentiate between nationality, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, a celebrity or the ‘average Joe’ in the street – none more so than with the use of cocaine, the second most widely used illegal drug with over 12 million users in Europe and the Americas alone and a global annual potential production of 984 metric tons in the year 2006 (source: the World Drug Report 2007.)

Powdered Cocaine and Crack Cocaine

As a potent and highly addictive drug, the physical and psychological symptoms of cocaine abuse will be the same whether the drug addict is a teen or a geriatric, a politician, a top model, a lawyer or a burger-flipper.

Cocaine and the Law

In the UK, cocaine is a Class A drug and dealing or supplying cocaine (even free of charge to a friend) can result in up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Possession may incur a penalty of up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Cocaine and the Workplace

A recent survey by Narcotics Anonymous showed that out of 2000 callers, over 70% of cocaine users were in full time employment, and that alarmingly 44% had supplied cocaine to their colleagues within the workplace. Substance misusers are 3.6 times more likely to have an accident while at work so this is of great concern to any employers. For information on drug testing, visit our workplace drug testing page or our home drug test FAQ page.

Cocaine Information: Slang Names for Cocaine

The street names for cocaine constantly evolve and today’s name may be tomorrow’s old news, but slang names may include Charlie, Big C, White, White Horse or White Lady, Percy, Coke, Snow, Toot, Blow, Bernie, Nose Candy, Bump, Chalk, Cecil, Flake, Dust, Monster, Paradise, Boy, Girl and Witch.

How is Cocaine used?

Cocaine is derived from the coca plant (Erythroxylon coca) native to South America which can taken in a variety of ways – sniffed or snorted, inhaled, smoked, injected or even chewed in the form of coca leaves.

Types of Cocaine

The type of cocaine most commonly used in the UK is the white crystalline powder called cocaine hydrochloride which is often pure cocaine adulterated with fillers such as flour, baking soda, sugars such as glucose or creatine, talcum powder or other local anaesthetics such as lidocaine. It is usually sold in vials or in wraps or packets made from paper, plastic or aluminium foil.

This type of cocaine is most commonly ‘snorted’ or ‘sniffed’ in the Western world, a process properly known as insufflation, whereby cocaine is absorbed through the mucous membranes of the nasal passages. Any cocaine not directly absorbed is trapped in the mucous and swallowed easily because this form of cocaine is highly water-soluble.

The image of white ‘lines’ of this substance may well be familiar (also called ‘rails’ or ‘bumps’) that are chopped and sliced with a razor on a hard surface like a mirror or a toilet seat and then snorted through a tube or other devices commonly called ‘tooters’, often a rolled bank note, a drinking straw, the casing of a biro pen or long fingernails. At celebrity gatherings in London, it is reputed that sterling silver drinking straws were a fashionable party accessory for models which prevented their lipstick from coming off on drinking glasses and, when occasion invited, doubled as a ‘designer’ tooter. After snorting a line, the residue is sometimes tamped onto fingers and rubbed onto the gums which has a numbing effect due to the anaesthetic properties of cocaine.

Freebase is a base form of cocaine, having had the hydrochloride salt and most of the adulterants removed in a dangerous process involving the use of explosive chemicals such as ether. Freebase is insoluble in water and cannot be snorted, inhaled or injected and is therefore only smoked.

Crack cocaine is a form of ready-to-use freebase, so-called because of the ‘cracking’ noise it makes when heated. It is produced by heating a mixture of cocaine powder with baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) or ammonia and water. Upon cooling, this cocaine takes the form of hard pellets or small ‘rocks’ of a creamy white through to a beige colour according to purity and method of preparation. It is often sold in plastic bags or little vials, each one containing enough for two or three inhalations. Freebase and crack is usually smoked through a pipe made from a glass tube with a mesh or steel / copper wool at the bottom or even an empty soft drinks can with a perforated base. A flame held close to the rock produces a vapour which is then inhaled by the user. It can also be placed in silver foil.

Smoking freebase or crack cocaine enables a very rapid rush and subsequent high, as the cocaine enters the blood stream via the lungs, reaching the brain within a matter of seconds.

Cocaine taken by injection also reaches the brain within seconds. The powdered drug is usually mixed with water and administered by syringe directly into the bloodstream. It is also popular to inject cocaine along with another drug, such as heroin, to make what in this instance is known as a speedball. This combination is particularly dangerous and has been implicated in many deaths including famous individuals such as John Belushi and River Pheonix. Injecting cocaine is often more potent than smoking it because the entire amount directly enters the body as opposed to some escaping in vapours during the smoking process or not being released to its optimum during the heating of the crystal.

Cocaine can be taken orally, although in the developed world this is quite rare. As well as being rubbed onto the gum-line, more harmfully cocaine can be swallowed as powder wrapped in paper, colloquially called a ‘snow bomb’. Some indigenous peoples in the Andes still traditionally chew the leaves or make into coca tea to relieve hunger and combat altitude sickness. In the late nineteenth century the famous drink Coca-Cola was so-called because one of its key ingredients was a liquid extract of the coca leaf along with the Kola nut and did in fact contain cocaine. To this day Coca-Cola includes a non-narcotic extract of the coca leaf.

Cocaine and Addiction

So why is cocaine so addictive? In brief, the drug stimulates the central nervous system, interfering with the reward centres in the brain which are associated with the basic needs to eat, drink and have sexual intercourse. In tests on animals, the addictive nature of the drug is demonstrated by the animal seeking the drug in preference to food and water, even in times of extreme hunger and thirst.

This, in part, is due to the way cocaine diverts the normal path of dopamine, a chemical which affects brain processes which control, amongst other things, the ability to experience pleasure. Cocaine binds itself to the proteins which normally transport dopamine and facilitate its re-uptake, so the dopamine is forced instead to build up in the synapse, extending and hugely amplifying the natural sensations of pleasure to create a forced euphoria – an artificial ‘high’.

Cocaine Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

The intense high from a cocaine hit can be within seconds and the ‘crash’ or ‘comedown’ can be devastating, resulting in the immediate and overwhelming desire to take more. Furthermore, an addict can gain a tolerance to cocaine, requiring larger amounts more frequently to achieve the strength of their former cocaine induced euphoria.

Symptoms of cocaine use may include but are not limited to increased energy and mental alertness, hyperactivity and possibly tremors, euphoria, talkativeness, rapid pulse and raised breathing rate, raised body temperature and blood pressure, a runny or stuffy nose and occasionally a bleeding nose, a decrease in appetite, an inflated sense of power or strength, confusion, paranoia, panic and anxiety, hallucinations and dilated pupils. After-effects of cocaine use may be lethargy, intense sleepiness and often depression.

Cocaine Addiction, Withdrawal Symptoms and Overdose

Symptoms of cocaine addiction may include physical problems such as severe loss of appetite and weight loss, nausea, headaches, abdominal pain, neglect of other bodily needs and personal hygiene, mood swings and psychotic behaviours, cardiac problems, collapse of the nasal septum (in the case of repeated snorting of cocaine) and a constantly runny nose, and social problems including neglect of family or work responsibilities, change of friends and other normal social contacts, possibly stealing or selling personal possessions to fund a drug habit and keeping antisocial hours.

A cocaine overdose can cause heart attack or seizures, brain haemorrhage due to increased blood pressure, dangerous rise in body temperature, renal failure, delirium, convulsions and death. Many of these things can occur even after just one use of the drug – a cocaine-induced heart attack or full respiratory failure can occur in a first time user or an addict with an established tolerance.

Cocaine Drug Testing

Cocaine is detectable in the body in urine for typically 2 to 4 days and possibly up to five days after use using drug testing kits.

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