Fears over laughing gas craze
Parents called in police after more than 100 used nitrous oxide canisters were dumped yards from a school in Bamber Bridge.
The haul was just the latest in a fresh string of incidents dealt with by council teams in central Lancashire over the past few months.
And one drug and alcohol treatment charity for young people has revealed there has been a marked increase in the numbers seeking help following the emergence of “new psychoactive substances,” better known as legal highs.
“They call it laughing gas, but it isn’t funny in the slightest - it can kill.”
That’s the view of a worried father-of-two, whose house backs on to the alleyway where more than 100 used nitrous oxide canisters were found.
“Considering there were more than a hundred of them, it beggars belief how many young people must be using this stuff,” he said.
At least 17 deaths have been attributed to laughing gas in the UK since it first emerged as a recreational drug amongst partygoers more than a decade ago. Nicknamed “hippy crack,” it became the drug of choice for many young people attending music festivals.
But it has seen a resurgence in recent months fuelled by celebrities, including Premier League footballer Raheem Sterling who was alleged to have inhaled.
The discarded bottles, used to dispense nitrous oxide to whip cream in the catering industry, were found in an alley which runs at the rear of Brownedge St Mary’s Catholic High School.
Council officers who had to dispose of the empty vials admit the find was just one of many over the last few months in South Ribble.
Coun Peter Mullineaux, South Ribble Council cabinet member for neighbourhood services, said: “We have been collecting nitrous oxide canisters from several locations around the borough.”
Nitrous oxide has become popular with young people looking for a quick high. The gas is inhaled, usually from a balloon, to give a brief feeling of euphoria and relaxation.
But doctors warn it can lead the user to act in a dangerous manner. In some cases it can cause unconsciousness or death.
“We were horrified when we found these things at the side of the pathway,” said the Bamber Bridge father-of-two, who asked not to be named. “There are four schools around here – two secondary and two primary – and the path goes right past Brownedge High.
“Schoolchildren use that pathway to get to and from school. The police were called and they got in the quick response team from the council who were here in no time to shift them. Thankfully all the canisters were empty.
“We’ve been asking for ages to have this pathway shut down because it serves no real purpose.”
A spokesperson for Lancashire Police said: “We were called in by residents and a team from the council took the canisters away. Unfortunately these things are not illegal.”
Fears have now been raised that the craze could take a grip on young people across the county. Coun Drew Gale, who represents the Town Centre ward on Preston Council, said: “I think the government really needs to clamp down and heavily regulate these so-called legal highs. When all is said and done, they are a drug and we should be protecting our young people from them.
“It is worrying when you see famous celebrities indulging in them, it makes them appear more glamorous. They need to be heavily regulated, and quickly, by the government.I am concerned it will start to become an issue unless we are proactive in dealing with it.”
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health for Lancashire County Council, said the misuse of nitrous oxide had not become a widespread problem in the county, but warned young people against experimenting.
He said: “We realise that people may experiment and if you or anyone you know need help, you should call our local substance misuse teams who will give confidential advice and support.”
Addaction, one of the UK’s largest specialist drug and alcohol treatment services, said: “The increasing availability of new psychoactive substances and the potential related harm have required a considered response from Young Addaction Lancashire.
“Addaction services have seen a marked increase in the numbers of people seeking help for these substances in recent years – people who are exposing themselves to damage to their physical or mental health. We work to deliver early intervention through our service and our resilience programme which is delivered to schools across the region in partnership with the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The scheme reaches 250,000 school pupils across the country.”
Earlier this year, teenagers in West Lancashire were warned about the effects of laughing gas after canisters were found discarded across the borough, including in Ormskirk. And in neighbouring counties, canisters were found in Merseyside, and bottles of nitrous oxide were last month stolen from the Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal.