Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA), referring to compounds, such as nitrous oxide, diethyl ether, or chloroform, has been recognized as a health issue by the WHO, though these compounds are not illegal. On the contrary, they can be very easily found and procured.
A publication from the LNS Forensic Medicine department, on two cases of fatal inhalation of such easily available “recreational” substances, is currently in press. These cases concerned two individuals of very different age and occurred in very different “recreational” contexts of (ab)use. Toxicological analysis of different biological fluid and tissue samples (blood, urine, gastric content, lung and brain tissue), with HS GC/MS methods was necessary to confirm the conclusions. Preanalytical expertise in sample collection, under conditions precluding evaporation of the suspected volatile molecules, was also critical for the validity of the analytical results and conclusions.
The scientific expertise of the LNS Forensic Medicine department has, not only provided objective evidence on the involvement of VSA in the cause of these deaths, but also highlighted the needs of substance abuse education programs, since these two cases demonstrate the fact that anyone can be exposed to the risks of VSA and that these risks can indeed be fatal.