AN ‘epidemic’ which has seen Barnsley youngsters use potentially deadly ‘laughing gas’ - a former so-called legal high which has become the second-most used drug for teenagers - will be tackled after the substance became illegal.
Nitrous oxide is now classified as a controlled class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
It means possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect, is now an offence and those using it have been warned of an imminent crackdown.
Repeat serious users of nitrous oxide could face a prison sentence of up to two years, and dealers up to 14 years.
If found in possession, criminal prosecutions could include an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment or a caution.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Oughton, South Yorkshire Police’s force lead for drugs, said: “As a force, we welcome the change in the law and the ban of nitrous oxide, which means that it will now be a criminal offence to possess nitrous oxide, without legitimate reason.
“Not only do the canisters litter the streets and public spaces but their use is linked to antisocial behaviour.
“We also know that unfortunately the use of nitrous oxide, which is most common amongst young people, puts people’s health at risk.
“We are encouraging people to familiarise themselves with the changes in the law and to really think about the possible consequences of possessing, selling or inhaling this substance.
“If you see any suspicious activity where you think nitrous oxide is being consumed, please report it to us via or our online portal.”
Anyone overdosing on nitrous oxide risks falling unconscious or suffocating from a lack of oxygen, and some people have died as a result.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, commended the decision to ban the possession of nitrous oxide as a ‘significant step’ towards safeguarding communities and protecting the health and wellbeing of residents.
Dr Billings added: “Nitrous oxide, once primarily used in medical and dental procedures, has gained popularity as a recreational drug in recent years.
“The ban on its possession is a crucial measure to address the growing concerns surrounding its misuse and the associated antisocial behaviour.
“It will empower police officers to take immediate action against those found in possession of nitrous oxide, deterring its use and distribution.
“In turn, this will hopefully disrupt the supply chain and dismantle criminal networks involved in the illegal trade of this substance.
“People often contact me about the way discarded nitrous oxide canisters disfigure their communities.
“Hopefully we will see an end to this as well.”
The British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) said the misuse of nitrous oxide can cause permanent damage in the central nervous system, or paralysis.
The BCGA said 12 per cent of substance-related deaths mentioned nitrogen or nitrous oxide on the death certificate.
Coun Kevin Osborne, who represents the Darfield ward, said its prevalence in areas such as parks was ‘concerning’ - and he revealed he removed an empty canister from a park last week.
“I support this law change fully as it’s an issue we’ve seen grow in recent years.
“There have been so many reports of young people dying from taking nitrous oxide so clearly something had to be done.
“Laughing gas canisters being left in parks frequented by youngsters is a common occurrence so I’m hopeful that police in Barnsley will use this as an opportunity to eradicate this locally.”
Executive director of public health and communities, Anna Hartley, told the Chronicle consumption of the drug was a serious issue.
“The new law which sees nitrous oxide classified as class C drug reflects the serious impact it can have on users’ health.
“Heavy regular use can lead to nerve damage and even paralysis, and this damage may be lasting.
“Anyone who is using nitrous oxide, or any other substance including alcohol, and needs help and support can contact Barnsley Recovery Steps.
“You can also talk to the service if you’re worried about someone else’s drug and alcohol use.
“For confidential information, advice and support, contact Barnsley Recovery Steps on 01226 779066 or email email@example.com.”