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1 in 4 drug users at festivals now get high on laughing gas – Higgins

6th September 2020 - Emer Higgins, TD

Legislation must be introduced to limit the sale of nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’, a drug that is leading to paralysis and death, particularly among young people, Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins has said.

Her call follows the HSE releasing new data to her showing that 1 in 4 attendees at music festivals who used drugs last year, used nitrous oxide.

Deputy Higgins has raised the craze of teenagers getting high on nitrous oxide – laughing gas – in the Dáil with the Minister with Responsibility for Drugs, Frank Feighan, and with Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

Deputy Higgins said, “We need to protect our young people against potentially damaging, harmful and deadly side effects of nitrous oxide misuse.

“I am calling on Fine Gael in Government to explore the possibility of introducing legislation limiting the sale of these laughing gas canisters which are easily available to purchase online through a simple Google search.

“Recently, my local parks in Lucan, Clondalkin, Palmerstown and Rathcoole have become littered with strange, shiny, silver bullets. Teenagers inhale nitrous oxide – laughing gas – from these bullets to get high and the easy availability of nitrous oxide online really is shocking.

“I have raised this issue in the Dáil and Minister Frank Feighan who recently confirmed to me that the HSE is gathering evidence on the abuse of nitrous oxide in Ireland, which is a welcome first step in tackling this scourge.

“Revenue have never seized this drug before 2020. But alarmingly, I obtained figures which show that Revenue have seized over 14,000 cannisters this year.

“Community leaders in my constituency have also informed me that the misuse of nitrous oxide is prevalent, and that action needs to be taken on this matter.

“While too many young people see it as harmless fun, neurologists are crystal clear about its long-term consequences. The gas depletes the body’s store of vitamin B12. This can cause spinal cord damage and is leading to young people being diagnosed as paraplegic and becoming wheelchair-bound,” Deputy Higgins said.

She has also called on Google to stop profiting from ads for selling nitrous oxide and asked for a HSE awareness campaign on the dangers of laughing gas.

“I have submitted a Parliamentary Question to my colleague, Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee for answer about the possibility of preventing the online sale of psychoactive substances, where it is clear from customers comments on websites that the substance is being acquired for human consumption.

“Nitrous oxide is freely available to purchase online from some Irish and foreign hosted websites at less than €2 per cannister.

“I know that some specialist users, such as bakeries or confectioners, use nitrous oxide for the purpose of whipping cream, however, vendors are selling these products through advertising on Google without any proper vetting before purchase.  Google is showing search results clearly marked as ‘sponsored’ when certain key words are used to search for the drug.

“I am calling on Google to ban sponsored ads for these products and to clearly mark the unpaid search results with a health warning.

Deputy Higgins concluded, “We really need to examine the possibility of severely limiting the availability of this substance. Belgium is planning to ban the sale of nitrous oxide to under 18s. The Netherlands is investigating banning it altogether.”

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