Published: 16:43, 19 July 2020
| Updated: 15:37, 21 July 2020
A Kent MP is calling for "fast action" to be taken against laughing gas - a recreational drug linked to at least 36 deaths.
Rosie Duffield has secured a parliamentary debate on nitrous oxide, which is also known as 'hippie crack', as concerns grow over its widespread use by young people.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show 25 people died from nitrous oxide-related deaths in the six years between 2010 and 2016 and 36 since 2001.
While figures are not available for the last four years, a shocking eight people died after taking the drug in 2016 - the most recent year for which there is data.
Whitstable has seen a particular problem with nitrous oxide lately. Furious beach-goers have frequently reported finding paraphernalia including balloons and cannisters, used to ingest the gas, scattered across the beach and surrounding areas.
Speaking to the Express, Ms Duffield said: "The situation has become much, much worse during lockdown.
"Nitrous oxide is very cheap and seen – wrongly – as harmless, so young people often try it as their first drug.
“If you ask any teenager, they’ll know all about it. It alarms me that some parents and people my age, still don’t know what those little silver canisters and balloons are for."
But she warns that the drug can have lasting long-term effects.
“People’s nerves have been permanently damaged," she continued. "We really need to further restrict how it is sold and distributed and education on why this isn’t just harmless fun really needs to be ramped up at home and in schools."
Ms Duffield will push for "fast action" to combat the problem, during an adjournment debate in the Commons on Tuesday.
Last month, MP Peter Gibson asked whether the government plans to look into the health implications of using nitrous oxide.
Health minister Jo Churchill responded that while "no recent assessment of the health effects of nitrous oxide has been made", the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded in 2015 that there is evidence use of the substance as a drug "can cause harm".
The government also said it has no plans to make possession of nitrous oxide for personal, recreational purposes illegal, adding: "possession with intent to supply is already unlawful and we have no plans to change that".
However, Canterbury City Council is considering introducing a raft of stringent Public Spaces Protection Orders which would make it an offence to possess nitrous oxide canisters on land it owns in the district.
The plans, which aim to crack down on nuisance behaviour, would see rule-breakers given on-the-spot fines.
People can comment on a consultation into the plans on the council's website until August 30.