Longitudinal research into petrol sniffing and other substance abuse trends in Indigenous communities: final report

Longitudinal research into petrol sniffing and other substance abuse trends in Indigenous communities: final report Report

  • Author(s): d'Abbs, Peter, Gillick, Vicki, Hodson, Sally, Kavanagh, Maggie, Payne, Steve, Ray, Tristan
  • Published: 2019
  • Publisher: The University of Queensland

Abstract: This report presents findings of a research project commissioned by the Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC)1 in 2017 to examine the continuing impact of Low Aromatic Fuel (LAF) as a deterrent to petrol sniffing in Australian Indigenous communities. It is based on fieldwork conducted in 25 Indigenous communities between December 2017 and October 2018. The study demonstrates the benefits of LAF in Indigenous communities, but also reveals limitations of the program. The main benefit is the contribution of LAF to reducing petrol sniffing or – where sniffing levels have already dropped following earlier introduction of LAF – to maintaining current low levels.These benefits flow on to other domains, in particular in reduced social disruption in the community and less harm to sniffers themselves. In most communities studied, these changes are now well entrenched. However, they are not irreversible. Many informants who are old enough to remember high levels of sniffing prior to the introduction of LAF believe that, should LAF cease to be available, these levels could return, together with the harms entailed. The findings of the study, when combined with evidence from earlier studies of the LAF rollout, also demonstrate that the benefits of the LAF program are sustainable. In light of these observations, we conclude that continuation of the LAF program is vital to the health and wellbeing of young people in Indigenous communities with a history of petrol sniffing.The limitations in the LAF program as revealed in this study are of two kinds. Firstly, the benefits of LAF are a function not only of the availability of LAF in a community, but also of the extent to which LAF supplants RULP as a vehicle fuel. This in turn depends upon whether RULP is available at a regional rather than merely a community level. Secondly, replacement of RULP with LAF does not, in itself, reduce demand for volatile substances or other drugs. This study shows that young people who want to sniff inhalants are able to access a range of products, in many cases despite concerted efforts by communities to make products such as deodorants, spray paints and glues inaccessible. There is also anecdotal evidence that some young people in some communities are sniffing LAF, despite its non-intoxicating properties. If the benefits of the LAF program as a supply reduction strategy are to be fully realised, the factors that drive demand for volatiles substances and other drugs among young people need to be identified and addressed.

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d'Abbs, Peter, Gillick, Vicki, Hodson, Sally, Kavanagh, Maggie, Payne, Steve, Ray, Tristan, 2019, Longitudinal research into petrol sniffing and other substance abuse trends in Indigenous communities: final report, Report, viewed 16 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=15837.

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