Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada International Opportunities Development Grant
Canadian Institute of Health Research Meetings, Planning and Dissemination Grant: Aboriginal Peoples’ Health

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Centre for Research and Advanced Studies National Polytechnic Institute (Mexico), Colorado State University, National Institute on Drug Abuse International Program, Nimkee NupiGawagan Healing Centre, National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, University of Auckland (New Zealand), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,Youth Solvent Addiction Committee.

To bring together global expertise to develop an international research program specific to the treatment of and healing from volatile substance misuse (VSM) for Indigenous youth, and to share the success of the Canadian experience in providing residential treatment. The aim is was to develop new knowledge and capacity to address mental health and substance abuse problems in Indigenous youth, focusing on stigma and discrimination, education, cultural competency and youth empowerment. VSA is the deliberate inhalation of fumes or vapors given off from a substance for its intoxicating and mind-altering effects. Volatile substances are located in hundreds of household and industrial products, such as gasoline, correctional fluid, paint and felt-tip markers.


1.    Publication of the Special Issue Volatile Substance Misuse: A Global Perspective in Substance Use & Misuse: An International Interdisciplinary Forum

For over 40 years, the Substance Use & Misuse journal has provided a unique international multidisciplinary environment for the exchange of facts, theories, viewpoints, and unresolved issues concerning substance use, misuse, “abuse” and dependency, eating disorders, and gambling. The misuse of volatile substances is a global health concern, but there has been a serious absence of documented, multidisciplinary understanding of the misuse of volatile substances across the globe.

The Special Issue of Volatile Substance Misuse: A Global Perspective was published in July, 2011, with Guest Editors Dr. Colleen Anne Dell, Research Chair in Substance Abuse, University of Saskatchewan (Canada), Dr. Steve Gust, International Program Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (USA), and Dr. Sarah MacLean, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre (Australia). The journal contains 20 peer-reviewed articles by authors from 12 nations. Data is presented from countries where VSM was previously underdocumented, as well as from countries reporting VSM among school populations; it discusses medical complications of VSM and the potential for central nervous system recovery with abstinence; and describes successful interventions that address VSM based on cultural understandings.

The journal was released at a full international symposia at the 2011 CPDD conference in Hollywood, Florida, titled “ Volatile Substance Misuse: A Global Call for Action”. It was co-Chaired by Dr. Flavio Pechansky, Center for Drug and Alcohol Research at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and Dr. Colleen Anne Dell. Members of the research team from Australia, Mexico and the United States were selected to present their papers.

2.   Leadership on the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) International Program Inhalants Working Group

The NIDA Inhalants Working Group is an ad hoc, multinational group of pharmacologists, epidemiologists, neuroscientists, prevention experts and treatment providers working to improve understanding of Volatile Substance Misuse (VSM), addiction, and related consequences. The Working Group defines VSM as the often habitual inhaling of products producing gases or vapours in order to induce a psychoactive effect; it is also referred to an inhalant abuse. Inhalants are significantly abused in many countries, particularly by young people. Little is known, however, about patterns of use, prevention, and treatment. Through a Country Scan led by the University of Saskatchewan, the hope is to build on it to identify commonalities and contrasts among countries in terms of substances abused, modes of use, types of users, and relative prevalence of use.  Introduced to the group in recent conversations has been the linkage between solvent abuse and HIV/AIDS in Canada and internationally.

Chaired by Dr. Dell, the Working group has created an online networking group on LinkedIn to provide inhalant abuse researchers with opportunities for sharing research findings, best practices, and ideas for future investigations with colleagues around the world.

A recent activity of the Inhalants Working Group is some members’ attendance at the September, 2012 International Forum on inhalant abuse, hosted by the Institute of Attention and Prevention of Addiction (IAPA) in Mexico City, Mexico – Foro: Internacional sobre uso indebido de psicoactivos volatiles (Inhalables). Dr. Silvia Cruz from Cinvestav, Mexico, and a member of the Inhalants Working Group, was a special advisor to IAPA with its planning of the agenda and international invitations. Four Inhalants Working Group experts attended, including Debra Dell and Dr. Colleen Anne Dell from Canada and Dr. Robert Balster and Harvey Weiss from the United States. Over 200 individuals, representing policy makers, researchers, service providers and industry representatives attended each day. Examples of news articles are available at: sunmedico & aztecanoticias. An update is available on the meeting in NIDA News:  Mexico City Meeting Spurs Local, International Action on Inhalant Abuse.

In addition to the formal Forum agenda, the meeting provided an opportunity for members of the Inhalants Working Group to meet with the Forum organizers to offer input into Mexico City’s and the Mexican states’ developing inhalants proposal. The Inhalants Working Group members also had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Maria Elena Medina-Mora of the National Institute of Psychiatry to discuss how the Group can support the work of the developing strategy in Mexico and further its work internationally. The Group’s next step included a Letter to the Editor published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in December, 2012. Members of the Inhalants Working Group also serve as advisory experts to Mexico’s developing inhalants strategy and to other counties documenting and developing interventions in inhalants.

Inhalant Working Group Explores New Research Areas on LinkedIn

Dear Volatile Substance Misuse Researchers and Service Providers: Greetings from Canada! I am writing to you as the Chair of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) International Program Inhalant Working Group. Formed in 2005, we are a multinational working group of inhalant abuse researchers with the common goal of enhancing understanding of the use of inhalants around the world. The NIDA International Program Inhalant Working Group defines inhalant or volatile substance misuse (VSM) as the often habitual inhaling of products producing gases or vapors in order to induce a psychoactive or mind-altering effect. Like you, our members are keenly aware that inhalants are abused in many countries, particularly by young people, and that little is known about patterns of use, prevention, and treatment.With increased attention to VSM over the past 12 months, sparked in part by the release of the special issue of Volatile Substance Misuse: A Global Perspective, there is much discussion happening across the globe. In response, the Inhalant Working Group would like to invite you to join us.We have a new online working space on LinkedIn. This platform will provide opportunities for learning from one another and sharing your latest findings, best practices, and ideas for future study with colleagues. The Inhalant Working Group also has virtual lectures that are available on the University of Saskatchewan website (see below).Some recent conversations have focused on:

  • Developing an environmental scan (led by Australia) to identify commonalities and contrasts among countries in terms of substances abused, modes of use, types of users, and relative prevalence of use
  • Links between VSM and HIV/AIDS (both as a risk behavior and as a factor in mucosal/respiratory/immune system responses)
  • Diagnostic structure of inhalant use disorders
  • Central nervous system impact on inhalant use and the phenomenology of inhalant use.

There are many reasons to stay connected in the VSM field!

You can join the NIDA International Program Inhalant Working Group on LinkedIn.

The Inhalant Working Group looks forward to connecting with you. Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.


Colleen Anne Dell, Ph.D.
Professor and Research Chair in Substance Abuse
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

3.    Development of On-line Learning Sessions on Youth Volatile Solvent Abuse

Session #1
 – Indigenous Youth Residential Solvent Abuse Treatment in Canada, is offered by Debra Dell of the Youth Solvent Addiction Committee. This 40-minute presentation covers a brief history of solvent abuse among Indigenous youth in Canada and an innovative residential treatment response. This successful response was initiated over a decade ago through a partnership between Indigenous communities and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada.

Session #2 – Inhalant Use and Inhalant Use Disorders in the United States, is offered by Dr. Matthew Howard of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Howard’s 50 minute talk reviews widely abused inhalant products; modes, settings and contexts of inhalant use; characteristics of inhalant intoxication; signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse and dependence; recent research examining the natural history of inhalant dependence; common mental health and substance-related problems of inhalant users; screening protocols for inhalant use; and specific issues having to do with nitrate abuse, nitrous oxcide inhalation, and suicidality in inhalant users. Findings from more than 20 recent studies are summarized. Generalizations are offered that may prove useful for practitioners and researchers working with inhalant users in international, national, regional and local contexts.

Session #3 – Volatile Solvent Misuse Prevention Initiatives in Central Australia, is offered by Tristan Ray, Coordinator of the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS). The CAYLUS mission is to address substance abuse by young people through supporting community initiatives for young people. Mr. Ray discusses the substantial volatile substance misuse problems among a relatively small population in Central Australia.

Session #4 – Neurobiology of Inhalant Misuse, is presented by Silvia Cruz, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Cinvestav in Mexico. She describes preclinical studies that have identified the effects of inhalants on behaviour, the central nervous system, and cellular and molecular functions. She also briefly discusses the epidemiology of inhalant abuse in Mexico and the implications of preclinical research findings for treatment and prevention interventions.

Transcripts of the online discussions following the presentations are available on the National Institute on Drug Abuse, International Program website.

 2010 National Institute on Drug Abuse International Conference Poster Session Presentation & Meeting

Left to Right: Debra Dell, Youth Solvent Addiction Committee; Silvia Cruz, Centre for Research and Advanced Studies, National Polytechnic Institute; Colleen Anne Dell, University of Saskatchewan; Judy McCormally, National Institute on Drug Abuse; Blair McFarland, Central Australian Youth Link-up Service

 2009 National Institute on Drug Abuse International Conference breakout session

Recordings of the breakout session, “Multinational Assessment and Prevention of Inhalant Abuse”, are available for two of our team members:

Dr. Colleen Anne Dell Volatile Substance Abuse Among Indigenous Youth: Similarities and Differences in Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the United States

Dr. Sarah MacLean – White Knight and Opal: Supply Reduction Approaches to Volatile Substance Misuse in Australia


6. Student Training

Dr. Dell supervises PhD Sociology student Sheria Myrie and her work on young girls and drug use (including VSM) in Jamaica.

She also collaborated with Gete Tsegaye’s work on inhalant and other drug use in Ethiopia.