Police are struggling to cope with the ‘epidemic’ of teens ‘taking hippy crack en masse’ as parents say the drug lining the gates of primary schools is one step from tragedy.
The deadly drug is rife among gangs in Stoke-On-Trent, where residents are becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of young people.
Thousands of empty laughing gas cannisters are appearing strewn across the city’s streets, reports StokeonTrent Live.
But this is just one city in what is a much wider problem among Britain’s youth.
Now the second most popular drug among 16-24 year-olds nitrous oxide, also known as Noz, hippie crack and balloons.
Easily accessible online and on the high street as a cooking tool, its abuse among Britain’s youth has been branded an ‘epidemic’.
Thousands will take it with their friends at festivals this Summer.
But nitrous oxide can be deadly.
It has been linked to 36 deaths in England and Wales since 2001 – a rate that doubled between 2015 and 2016.
Nowhere is the issue more stark than in Stoke-on-Trent, where alarmed residents are finding the bullet-shaped containers outside schools and terrorising parks and alleyways.
Now a campaign has been launched asking anyone who finds the canisters to report details of the location and time to the City Council and the police.
Candi Chetwynd, a councillor for the Ford Green and Smallthorne ward, fears that that only the worst – tragedy – may be the only way to make local young people stop.
“I didn’t know what these silver canisters were until this year. On any given street you can find them. I see fresh hoards of up to 30 every day,” she said.
“They are obviously being used in gangs. Seeing them outside primary schools breaks my heart.”
Among the schools in Stoke-On-Trent where the cannisters have been spotted by appalled parents dropping there kids off in the morning, is Burnwood Community School in the Chell Heath area of the city.
Assistant head Sandra Eggleton said: “We’re not aware of it being a problem, certainly not in this school but we are aware of it being a problem locally and are concerned about local children.”
Inhaled through balloons from ice-cold metal cannisters, nitrous oxide is known as ‘laughing gas’ because it brings a short period of elation and can spark hallucinations.
But authorities fear that children are turning a blind eye to the risks of the drug as it slows down the brain, can cause the loss of consciousness and ultimately suffocation – an effect compounded by alcohol.
DC Sean Astall, drugs liiaison officer for Staffordshire Police, said that the force visits local schools to try to sway young people away from harmful psychoactive drug use, but warned that the law is not so forgiving.
He said: “Whilst the possession of nitrous oxide is not an offence, its supply or possession with intent to supply to another person for anything other than a lawful purpose – is one of a number of offences under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.”
It is a sentiment echoed by the Royal College of Nursing, which recently called for a nationwide public awareness campaign to dispel ‘naivety’ around laughing gas – especially among teens at festivals.
The RCN’s professional lead for mental health nursing Catherine Gamble said the long-term effects of nitrous oxide “are no laughing matter”.
She added: “The law is very clearly not working. Better public information, especially aimed at festival-goers and young people, about the risks would help people stay safe and reduce the burden on nursing professionals.”
Ms Chetwynd has taken to social media to try to spread the message to local young people before it is too late.
“I hope that parents and teachers can talk to children about drug abuse and ensure that young people steer well clear of them,” she said.
“I am petrified that someone will get seriously hurt or even killed by suffocation. They are cheap and easy to buy in local shops and online.
“The lack of police on the ground in recent years makes it simple for youths to congregate and do drugs.
“People only have one life and if they chose drugs their life is in the balance.”