Possession of laughing gas could become a criminal offence after ‘concerning rise’ in use among young people
The UK Home Secretary is seeking advice on whether to criminalise the possession of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.
Priti Patel has asked the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review the harm caused by nitrous oxide after over half a million young people reported taking the drug in 2019-20.
Now the second most used drug by 16-24 year olds in the UK, the ACMD’s assessment could include more education for young people on its harms or tougher punishment for those who supply the drug to children.
Nitrous oxide, which is usually sold in small silver canisters and inhaled, can cause serious long-term effects such as vitamin B12 deficiency and anaemia.
It is also commonly used at ‘anti-social gatherings’ and leads to widespread littering in public places.
In May police in Flintshire launched ‘Operation Blue Sapphire’ focusing on the use of nitrous oxide in the county and the subsequent demands it places on the police such as dealing with anti-social behaviour, littering.
In collaboration with trading standards, drug and alcohol support groups, schools and the local health service, police aimed to engage, explain and educate young people, who are most at risk of using the gas.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Misusing drugs can have a devastating impact on lives and communities – we are determined to do all we can to address this issue and protect the futures of our children and young people”
“Should the expert Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommend further restrictions on this drug, we stand ready to take tough action.”
The sale of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects was made illegal after the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, but it is not currently a crime to be caught in possession of the drug.
The UK government says there are concerns that this could be a significant factor resulting in the increasing consumption of the substance.
The ACMD previously provided advice on nitrous oxide in 2015 and concluded that it did not seem to warrant control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
However, given the increase in use among young people and concern over potential long-term effects, the Home Secretary has requested an updated assessment.
In 2019-20, 8.7% of 16 to 24-year-olds reported using nitrous oxide in the last 12 months, equivalent to around 549,000 people, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
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