• While VSM is widely acknowledged to be a health and welfare issue, rather than a criminal justice issue, the high risk that inhalant users pose to themselves and others means that it is also an issue for law enforcement agencies.

  • VSM is not a criminal offence in any Australian jurisdiction.

  • In recent years several Australian jurisdictions have amended police powers to intervene in VSM episodes, in two main ways: by authorising police to confiscate inhalants and related equipment; to apprehend young people engaged in VSM and release them into the care of a responsible person or a place of safety.

  • An evaluation of the 'places of safety' measures in Queensland in 2005 found that, while the facilities had provided a safe haven for inhalant users, it had not been extensively used by police as a custodial option.

  • A number of Aboriginal communities and organisations have imposed sanctions on VSM in the form of by-laws. However, in some places the effectiveness of these has been compromised by a lack of suitable places to which apprehended inhalant users can be taken, and/or by an absence of police to enforce the by-laws.

  • Aboriginal community-based police liaison officers can play a useful role in complementing sworn police officers; however, their capacity to act is sometimes constrained by local cultural factors, and they should not be seen as an alternative to sworn police officers.

  • Community patrols, also known as night patrols and street patrols, can provide an important mechanism for communities themselves to maintain peace, mediate conflicts and reduce harm related to VSM and other substance misuse. Their effectiveness is dependent upon a number of factors, including clear and mutually satisfactory relationships with local police, and adequate funding.

  • In order for law enforcement agencies to work effectively against VSM, a number of pre-conditions must be met. These include an adequate police presence, appropriate short-term custodial options, appropriate sentencing options, trained and supported community-based agencies such as night patrols, and clearly defined relationships linking police with health and welfare agencies.