Soda siphon cartridges found on several streets hail depressing new era of addiction
Chairman of the East Ilford Betterment Partnership Wilson Chowdhry has been meeting with residents this week to seek their views on what needs they have for their local area.
During a visit to a resident of Westrow Gardens he was informed of a new legal-high craze that is affecting young people in Mayfield ward.
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Their drug of choice is not marijuana or ecstasy, rather, their high comes in innocent-looking, silver soda siphon cartridges. Filled with nitrous oxide - also known as laughing gas - they are sold in the street and many local places including 'pound shops'.
The gas is inhaled immediately and induces a brief but mind-tingling sensation - something users describe as an out-of-body experience. The nitrous oxide cartridges are also relatively cheap and though sold in batches, cost around 10p each.
Nitrous oxide, delivered in steel capsules, has for decades been widely used in the catering industry, for the production of whipped cream and within soda spritzers for carbonating drinks.
The craze for nitrous oxide, nicknamed "hippy crack", has grown to the extent that 470,000 people aged 16 to 59 have tried it in the past year in Britain alone, according to Home Office figures. That number includes 7.6 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds, compared with the 4.2 per cent who have tried cocaine and 3.9 per cent who have taken ecstasy.
The sight of burst balloons and spent nitrous oxide cartridges has become a nuisance in Mayfield ward and no doubt other Redbridge ward. The craze has been particularly virulent in East London and is being compared to the widespread glue sniffing addiction in the 1980s.
While Wilson Chowdhry was delivering newsletters to residents in Mayfield and Clementswood wards' he found silver canisters on several roads, including Westrow Gardens, Gordon Road, South Park Terrace and Capel Road.
Mr Chowdhry, said:
"It is alarming to see how many people are using these legal highs.
"Local residents have been collecting bags of these items and have raised complaints with the council and local police but little seems to have been done to stop this new craze.
"Recent evidence proves a link with death and serious health conditions, moreover it is known to be a craze that attracts younger users.
"The only way to tackle the problem is to provide stricter guidelines for purchase of the items, such as raising the age of consent for purchase. Sellers need to be made responsible for sales to older persons, ensuring they do not exhibit signs of 'gas abuse".
Investigation onto the craze has revealed serious health concerns. It has been blamed for 17 deaths in Britain between 2006 and 2012, according to coroners' court data, and the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 400 councils across England and Wales, has issued a health warning about the dangers of inhaling the gas.
The notice says regular intake of nitrous oxide can lead to oxygen deprivation, which can result in loss of blood pressure, fainting and even heart attacks. Prolonged exposure can cause anaemia, bone marrow suppression and poisoning of the central nervous system, says the LGA, adding that it is particularly concerned at internet clips posted on social networking sites showing children inhaling the gas.
Inhaling nitrous oxide using unsafe methods for extended periods of time can cause brain damage and death, stated a group called DrugScience: "These risks are unlikely with the common balloon method."
In a strikingly graphic description of the gas' physical effect, DrugScience says, "When someone inhales nitrous oxide, the gas rapidly dissolves into the bloodstream, and hits the brain within seconds. Effects vary between people and are rarely quite the same twice, but a rush of dizziness and euphoria is normal, and people often burst out laughing. Sound is oddly distorted, voices and music often turning into a throbbing roar like a helicopter.
"Hallucinations are possible, from simple moving bright dots to complete detailed dreamscapes, although most users do not experience complex hallucinations." The experience, it says, "ends swiftly with the peak lasting a few seconds and the user back to normal within two minutes".
Mr Chowdhry, has raised this issue with Mayfield and Clementswood Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams and Redbridge ASB Team, on behalf of local residents.