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Use of nitrous oxide or 'hippie crack' on the rise during pandemic

A teenage boy died after inhaling the gas in Dublin last month.

The discarded silver gas canisters.
The discarded silver gas canisters.
Image: Mark Ward TD via Facebook

COMMUNITY DRUG ACTIVISTS have warned that the use of nitrous oxide has become more widespread during the Covid-19 lockdown.

There has been a spike in the amount of drug litter connected to nitrous oxide being discovered in Irish parks in recent weeks, according to a number of local representatives. 

Much of the debris is in the form of small gas cylinders which had contained nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas or hippie crack, which is a legal gas. 

The drug is also suspected as being connected to the death of a 15-year-old Dublin teenager last month. 

Laughing gas has already been banned in a number of countries in Europe. 

According to TalktoFrank, a website which provides information about drugs, inhaling nitrous oxide directly from a canister is very dangerous because the gas is under such high pressure. It can cause a spasm of the throat muscle and cause the user to stop breathing. 

Janet Robinson, the research and training officer for the Blanchardstown Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force, described how there has been an increased use of nitrous oxide over the last two years.

She added that the current pandemic has resulted in a “cannabis drought” which has led to teenagers drinking more. The availability of this drug, mixed with an increase in drinking and children not attending school due to Covid, has created a dangerous dynamic.

She told TheJournal.ie: “What I have been told is that it can be bought in local shops. I think [the issue] you have here is the availability of this. They are easy to get. It does appear to be increasing in use.

“You now have a lot of young people who are out of school. You have the mix of easy access and a higher number of children around.”

Mark Ward, Sinn Féín TD in Dublin Mid-West said he had been alerted by local litter wardens about an upsurge in the number of gas canisters discovered in the local area, especially the Shancastle area of Clondalkin. 

Posting on social media earlier this week, he said: “The litter warden sent me these photographs after I asked for the illegal dumping at the end of Shancastle Drive to be removed.

“Whilst the level of dumping is disgusting what concerns me more are the “silver bullets” These are nitrous oxide more commonly known as laughing gas and can be fatal as we have seen recently in Tallaght.”

Areas in Dublin beaches, as well as the Curragh in Kildare, were littered with the debris as well. 

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Alex Ryan (15) died after inhaling the gas last month. A video message from his father, Mick Morrissey was shared by local newspaper The Echo.

Holding up one of the bottles, he said: “Unfortunately my son passed away from taking one of these.

“I’d like for everybody in the area, the whole of the country and the whole of the world to be able to recognise these things. These things are dangerous.

“Children are able to buy these things on the street for €1 or €2 a-go and unfortunately my son was one of the ones that didn’t survive.”

The HSE warned at the start of this year that use of this drug was on the rise and it was being purchased online. 

The HSE warned that when the gas is inhaled, it has the potential to displace air in the lungs and can stop oxygen entering the blood flow.

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