Alcohol and other drugs: health professionals

Volatile substances

Volatile substances include petrol, solvents and aerosols that when inhaled can cause significant side effects, as well as damage to the brain.

For more information about the health effects of volatile substances, go to the Northern Territory Government website.

A Volatile Substance Management Area can be declared in a community to control the possession, supply, use and storage of inhalants.


The Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act 2005 (the Act) provides a comprehensive and systematic approach for the prevention, early intervention and treatment of volatile substance use in the Northern Territory.

The Act was introduced in response to community concerns about volatile substance use. The object of the Act is to support child, family and social welfare and improve the health of people in the NT by providing a legislative framework for:

  1. The prevention of volatile substance use; and
  2. The protection of persons, particularly children, from harm resulting from volatile substance use.

The main areas of the Act are:

  • Prevention of inhalation and protecting the health and safety of individuals;
  • Assessment and treatment of individuals at risk of severe harm; and
  • Community management of the possession, supply and use of volatile substances.

Read the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act 2005.

Assessment for treatment with an approved program

Under the Act, applying for an assessment for someone who may be at severe risk of harm from volatile substance use is not mandatory. Wherever possible, a person who is at risk should be encouraged to seek medical advice and/or treatment voluntarily.

Where the person is not willing to enter into treatment voluntarily, the Act, states that the following people may apply to an assessor/assessment team for an assessment of the person:

  1. Police officers or authorised persons
  2. Health practitioners - i.e. a medical practitioner or person registered under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (other than as a student) as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners, nurses or midwives
  3. A member of the family of the person believed to be at risk
  4. A responsible adult for a child believed to be at risk
  5. Any other employee approved by the Health Minister. This currently includes:
    • School Principals
    • Advanced Practitioners (P2 level) employed by Territory Families

Access the Request for Assessment under the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act Form DOCX (77.6 KB).

The assessment process

Under the Act, assessment of a person includes a comprehensive assessment of one or both of the following:

  1. The person’s condition (which may include their physical, neurological and mental condition);
  2. The person’s circumstances (which may include their lifestyle, environment and relationships with others).

Assessment therefore, is required to have a holistic approach with Assessors ensuring that the person’s physical, mental health, cognitive and other risk assessments are undertaken.

Assessors must exercise and perform their powers and functions in accordance the assessment guideline, issued by the Chief Health Officer.

Read the Volatile Substance Use Assessment Guideline.

Community management

Under the Act, residents and community councils can request that the Health Minister declares a place a management area and approves a management plan.

This controls the possession, sale and supply, use and storage of volatile substances that cause harm.

People who live in or visit communities with  Volatile Substance Management Plans should be aware of and comply with these rules.

Read the Community Management of Possession, Supply and use of Volatile Substances Guideline.

Visiting a Volatile Substance Management Area

Even if a management plan is not in force where people may live, visit or work, it is important to use volatile substances responsibly:

  • use low aromatic fuel when and where available
  • if low aromatic is not available use a lockable fuel cap or diesel-powered equipment
  • secure inhalants and fuel-powered equipment
  • lock up aerosols, glues and other substances that may be abused
  • remove or safely dispose of all glues, paints, aerosols and other inhalants when leaving the community.

Contractors who plan to visit and work at communities should read the Contractors Guide for Visiting Communities.

The maximum penalty for contravening a management plan is 100 penalty units or six months imprisonment.



The communities listed below have a declared management area, some also have approved management plans.

Top End




East Arnhem








Beswick (Wugularr)






Central Australia




Ali Curung

Alice Springs

Hoppy's Camp




Mount Liebig



Yarrenyty Arltere (Larapinta)

More information

See below for organisations addressing inhalant misuse or go to the NT Government website for information about NT drug rehabilitation services.


The Top End Health Service and Central Australia Health Service have primary responsibility for the delivery of clinical services components of the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act.

This includes assessment of referrals, treatment options and aftercare.


Amity Community Services  is a non-government organisation currently leading a project to reduce the health and social harms associated with volatile substance misuse in the Top End region of the NT.

Call (08) 8944 6565
Go to the Amity website.

The Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS)  is a local non-government organisation.

CAYLUS supports communities in Central Australia to prevent and respond to inhalant abuse, through community development initiatives such as youth diversion programs and rehabilitation services, supply reduction strategies and casework.

Call (08) 8951 4236 or go to the CAYLUS website.

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Last updated: 08 June 2022

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