National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Volatile Substance Abuse and Helium Deaths

Volatile Substance Abuse and Helium Deaths

Main Points

As Scotland’s annual numbers of these deaths are, on average, in low double figures (Volatile Substance Abuse deaths) and in single figures (Helium deaths), they may be subject to large percentage year-to-year fluctuations. It follows that one should not make too much of the numbers for any one year, or of any apparent trend over a few years. A separate section of this website provides more information about fluctuations in, and the possible unreliability of, statistics for small sub-groups . The definition of the statistics and some other points that should be kept in mind when using these figures are given in the Background page.

Volatile Substance Abuse deaths

Eight such deaths were registered in 2017. Over the years since 2000, the number has fluctuated, between as low as one death (in 2004) and a peak of 25 deaths (in 2011).  In total, there were 197 such deaths in the 18 years, which represents an average of about 11 per year.  As the annual average for the latest three years (2015 to 2017) is 10, and the annual average for the latest five years (2013 to 2017) is 11, it appears that recent years’ figures are broadly typical of the period as a whole.

Males account for the majority of the deaths. Over the years, the pattern of deaths by age-group has changed. In the first few years of the century, the 15-24 age-group tended to have more deaths than any other age-group. However, since about 2010, the 25-34 age-group has usually had more deaths, and there have also tended to be more deaths of 35-44 year olds in recent years than there were in the first decade.

In almost all cases, at least one volatile substance was believed to have been implicated in, or potentially contributed to, the cause of death. Some of these deaths are also counted as drug-related: generally, a small proportion are counted in terms of the National Records of Scotland (NRS) standard (‘UK Drug Strategy’) definition; and a larger proportion (but still under half, in most years) are counted in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ‘wide’ definition.

Helium deaths

Six such deaths were registered in 2017. Over the years since 2000, the number has fluctuated: from no deaths (in 2000 to 2004) to peaks of 10 deaths (in 2012 and 2014). In total, there were 67 such deaths in the 18 years, which represents an average of just under 4 per year. As the annual average for the latest three years (2015 to 2017) is five, and the annual average for the latest five years (2013 to 2017) is seven, it appears that recent years’ figures are a little higher than would be typical of the period as a whole.

Males account for the majority of the deaths.  Analysis by age-group would not be appropriate because there are not many such deaths in each year.

In all cases, helium was believed to have been implicated in, or potentially contributed to, the cause of death.  None of these deaths are counted as drug-related in terms of NRS’s standard definition, but all are counted in the ONS ‘wide’ definition.

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