But cannabis is becoming an increasing concern, with almost two in three communities citing it as a cause of major problems, including assaults on elderly people.”
Menzies School of Health Research in AMA report
“This year, it is 10 years since low aromatic fuel was rolled out in Central Australia. In those days, there were around 500 people sniffing in the region; it was an epidemic,
“Community leaders from Papunya, the Mt Theo programme and NPY Women’s Council lobbied hard for the fuel to be introduced and they were listened to.
These days there wouldn’t even be 20 people sniffing in the same region. Low aromatic fuel is a community-driven solution supported by governments, retailers and the fuel industry that has worked well and stood the test of time.”
Field workers from the Menzies School of Health Research visited 41 communities in 2011-12 and again in 2013-14 to interview community members about substance abuse and their attitudes to the introduction of low aromatic fuel (LAF).
Download the Report here monitoring-trends-petrol-sniffing-2011-14
They found that the number of people sniffing petrol had fallen by almost 30 per cent – from 289 to 204 – over that period.
Comparable data from 2005-06 for 17 of the survey communities showed an 88 per cent fall in sniffing rates.
“The key conclusion of the study is that the introduction and use of LAP on a regional basis is associated with a continuing decline in numbers of young people in remote communities sniffing petrol,” the researchers said.
“In addition to an overall decrease in the prevalence of sniffing, people who do sniff tend to do so less frequently, which suggest that less harm is being caused by petrol sniffing in Australia’s remote and rural Indigenous communities than previously.”
LAF, originally known by the brand name Opal, was introduced in 2005 to combat sniffing.
In the majority of communities surveyed, its introduction was widely supported.
One elderly woman told the field workers: “Opal fuel? Everyone stopped because of that. It’s really good.”
In some communities, however, interviewees expressed frustrations about the continuing availability of regular unleaded fuel at nearby, accessible outlets, and concerns about the perceived adverse impact of LAP on engines, particularly small engines such as outboard motors, motorcycles, lawn mowers, and whipper snippers.
The researchers found that in many communities, sniffing had been overtaken by alcohol and cannabis as troubling issues.
In just over half of the communities visited, alcohol abuse was seen as a major concern, and was associated with grog-running, binge drinking, violence, and deaths.
But 27 of the 41 communities – 65.9 per cent – cited cannabis as a cause of major problems, including drug-induced psychoses, fighting over scarce supplies, and assaults on old people to get money to buy cannabis.
In a similar study in 2007-08, concerns about cannabis were raised in just three out of the 31 communities studied.
But the researchers said that did not mean that people were switching from sniffing to cannabis and alcohol.
“The evidence regarding drug substitution was equivocal,” they said.
“In around one in three communities, field workers were told that the decline in petrol sniffing appeared to have led to an increase in use of cannabis, alcohol, and/or other drugs.
“A similar proportion reported hearing no evidence of such substitution.
“In some cases, growth in cannabis use preceded the decline in petrol sniffing.
“In general, use of alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs appeared to be a product of a mix of social, cultural, and economic factors, rather than any single cause.”
The Monitoring trends in the prevalence of petrol sniffing in selected Australian Aboriginal communities 2011-14 can be found at http://www.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/monitoring-trends-petrol-sniffing-2011-14.pdf.
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