A new study of unintentional deaths from poisoning has found that inhaling butane gas and similar substances is the leading cause in young people aged 15 to 24.
But just behind in the seven-year analysis were the grouping of alcohol, anti-depressant medicines, anti-psychotics and recreational drugs, followed by "opioid" drugs like morphine. Alcohol accounted for 16 per cent - 14 of the total of 90 young people's deaths. The study does not cover suicides which, at 55 per cent, were the majority of poisoning deaths in 15-to-24-year-olds.
The government committee which analysed the unintentional deaths and those of undetermined intent has called for lawmakers to impose a minimum purchase age and in-store restrictions on access - to help curb the abuse of butane, LPG and other hydrocarbons by minors.
Coroners, following inquests into so-called "huffing" deaths, have previously called for restrictions on the sale of the products.
The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee, in its report made public today, says the ease with which young people can acquire butane and other "volatile solvents" needs to be urgently addressed.
"Legislation should be considered, at least for the most commonly used and most lethal compounds such as butane.
"A number of countries, including Australia, the UK and Scotland, have already put legislation in place to restrict the supply of butane and solvents, and volatile inhalants to children under the age of 18 years. Retailers should be encouraged to exercise their right to refuse the sale of goods where they consider abuse to be a risk, while providing secure storage for butane products."
Committee chairman Dr Nick Baker said restricting access by legislation was complex, but it had been done with spray paints "to protect our buildings from graffiti".
"My personal view is, we do it for spray paint; I can't understand why we wouldn't want to do it for volatile substances."
He added that a number of retailers had voluntarily restricted access to butane and similar substances, and some had stopped selling them.
Associate Health Minister Todd McClay said the Government would seek advice on the suggestion of an age limit for buying the substances, because "a single approach to this complex problem is unlikely to work".
The study found the Maori rate of poisoning death was more than three times the non-Maori rate for all substances, with a possibly much greater disparity for alcohol poisoning fatalities.
In 46 of the 90 cases there was some evidence of more than one substance being used before death, frequently alcohol and cannabis.
The committee has warned of the importance of calling an ambulance when someone has a decreased level of consciousness after taking drugs or other substances.
In a number of the deaths investigated, the person who died was thought to have been "sleeping it off", so the seriousness of the situation was not appreciated, even when people were concerned enough to place the victim in the recovery position before death.
Cause of death
31 Butane, LPG or other hydrocarbons
30 Alcohol, anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medicines, or recreational drugs
29 Methadone, morphine or codeine
Source: Report on the 90 poisoning deaths from 2002-2008 in people aged 15-24 that were unintentional or of undetermined intent