LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 8 no 1, 2000, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Babies Soothed To Sleep With Petrol Sniff

The following is an article from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) 15/8/00 p.1.
Reprinted with the kind permission of AAP.

Some indigenous mothers used petrol-soaked rags to comfort their babies, according to a submission to a parliamentary inquiry yesterday.

The House of Representatives inquiry into substance abuse in Australian communities was told the petrol rags were tied to babies' jumpers to get them to sleep.

This was one of several "alarming anecdotes" in the submission from the Department of Family and Community Services, which "highlight the impact of substance abuse on indigenous people and communities".

"There is evidence to suggest that indigenous people suffer depression at a higher rate than non-Aboriginal people; that rates of self-harm and suicide are higher; and that substance abuse, domestic violence and child abuse contribute additional risk factors," the submission said.

"Indigenous women have identified that a common practice among some mothers to soothe babies and get them to sleep has been to dip rags in petrol and tie them on to babies' jumpers."

Child neglect and abuse was a common result of substance abuse in Aboriginal communities.

"Children are left to fend for themselves whilst their parents spend time in local clubs and pubs," the department said.

In some rural areas, a significant number of children did not attend school or dropped out at a very young age.

The department also drew attention to the practice of hanging a tin filled with petrol around a person's neck, presumably to leave their hands free to do other things while sniffing. "Many of the people who do this are children."

A school principal in one area of regional NSW identified the top three health issues for the area as drugs and alcohol, petrol sniffing and mental illness.

The life expectancy for indigenous people in the area is 33 years.

Domestic violence in Aboriginal communities is made worse by excessive substance usage.

Women and children were often forced to leave the family home because of domestic violence and in some towns, it was generally expected that incidents of domestic violence would be higher on pension days when people had funds to finance their drug and or alcohol dependency.

The department said these were typical of the experiences of indigenous communities throughout Australia.

"Solvent sniffing appears to be a significant problem among isolated Aboriginal communities, where it has major health and social implications, particularly as the people becoming addicted to this are so young."

To compound the problem, it had been suggested this addiction was harder to break than more "commonly understood" forms of abuse, such as alcohol and heroin.

The submission said that high levels of substance abuse among young people between 16 and 21 in communities was often accompanied by "nightly violence and law-breaking which the communities have no resources to alleviate or manage".

In some cases, drug abuse problems were aggravated by lack of adult supervision and the absence of indoor recreation facilities to provide a focus for young people during the rainy season.

"Substance abuse leads to high levels of incarceration among indigenous people. This results in a whole range of social issues for the individual concerned, their family and dependants, and their community."

The submission said that indigenous communities tended to seek their own solutions to substance abuse, partly because of a "shame factor" associated with revealing the issues to outsiders.

The lack of trained indigenous counsellors created pressures in communities trying to deal with the problem by using their own resources.

"Indigenous families will also take responsibility for feeding, housing and supporting individual users and their children, creating further pressures in communities with high existing levels of poverty."

The submission stressed the importance of culturally appropriate responses. It was necessary to overcome "the overwhelming influence of the dominant culture that is inherent in all service structures in remote Aboriginal communities".

The parliamentary inquiry is investigating the social and economic costs of substance abuse with particular regard to family relationships, crime, violence, law enforcement, road trauma, workplace safety and productivity, and health care costs.

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