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Friday 23 March 2018

Use of 'unpredictable and highly risky' gas for cheap high on the rise

The warning poster issued about the dangers of inhaling butane gas
The warning poster issued about the dangers of inhaling butane gas
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

A growing number of drug users in Dublin city are risking sudden death by inhaling butane gas for a cheap high, experts have warned.

Butane is a colourless, odourless gas found in household and industrial products.

It is misused by being inhaled directly through the mouth - either from cigarette lighter refills, canisters or aerosol sprays. Users report an immediate feeling of euphoria or sense of well-being.

However, Tony Duffin, the director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, has warned that inhaling or "huffing" butane gas can kill instantly.

"Using inhalants such as butane gas is not a new phenomenon. However, we have seen a resurgence in its use in recent years among people living on the streets and people in hostel accommodation," said Mr Duffin.

"This trend is worrying, as inhaling butane is unpredictable and highly risky," he said.

Mr Duffin said there is no safe usage level, and potential health risks can include fits and loss of short-term memory.

"It's cheap and accessible, so unfortunately inhaling butane has become part of some people's daily drug use," he said.

"As a result, we're seeing some very challenging behaviours - people are hard to engage with as they tend to avoid contact with others and stay away from services," Mr Duffin said.


Most deaths attributed to butane use are caused by Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS), a cardiac condition where the heart starts beating irregularly.

If the person gets excited, startled or participates in any sudden physical activity after inhaling butane, the heart can fail to pump blood.

The national addiction service has now launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the issue, which includes an A3 poster and a factsheet which will be circulated widely to retailers, emergency accommodation, addiction services and garda stations.

The campaign advises that it's always safest not to inhale butane, but it also provides "harm reduction information" for people who are going to use it.

This includes: "Do not use butane alone, in isolated locations or in confined spaces; keep the can upright, and do not tilt the can."

Mr Duffin said it was difficult to put a figure on the numbers abusing butane gas. "Often, the people are poly-drug users so it wouldn't be their normal drug of choice," he said.

Dublin Lord Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh has commended the new information campaign.

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