County Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen has written to the Home Secretary requesting the urgent publication of new research into the dangers of the drug nitrous oxide.
As Joint National Leads for Addiction and Substance Misuse on behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), Commissioner Allen and Dorset PCC David Sidwick told Home Secretary Suella Braverman it was imperative the findings of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) review were made public as soon as possible.
This, they said, would help PCCs and forces respond to misuse of the drug in their communities – including new evidence suggesting it had become a factor in serious road traffic accidents and fatalities.
The ACMD was asked to analyse the health and societal impacts of nitrous oxide by the Home Office in September 2021 following reports of young people being harmed by the substance and increasing concerns about its link to anti-social behaviour.
Nitrous oxide, otherwise known as ‘laughing gas’, is used as pain relief during medical procedures such as dental work. It is now the second-most used drug among 16 to 18-year-olds in the UK, behind cannabis.
While the sale of nitrous oxide is illegal to anyone under the age of 18, it is not currently a crime to possess the drug.
Campaigners hope the review will recommend further legal restrictions on the drug to protect the lives of young people and help police robustly tackle its associated problems. However, despite previous calls for action, the outcome of the research has yet to be published.
In her joint letter to the Home Secretary, Commissioner Allen said: “We welcomed the Home Secretary’s decision to ask the ACMD for this review. We were hearing from members of the public who were troubled by large groups gathering in parks and other public places to use this drug, behaving erratically, and leaving silver cannisters, balloons and other litter behind.
“There was widespread concern, of course, about the health impacts and we feared that this was a starting point for some young people to progress to harder drugs. A year later, in September 2022, we repeated our call for action; we have still not heard anything further on the conclusions of the ACMD’s review.
“This is even more concerning, given growing evidence from policing colleagues that nitrous oxide misuse is increasingly being identified as a key factor in road traffic incidents, including serious, fatal accidents, and that its exclusion from the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 may be making it more difficult to respond appropriately to this extremely worrying and life-threatening development.”
Commissioner Allen and her colleague welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Home Secretary to further discuss how best to respond to misuse of the drug in future.
“We would urge you to do everything that you can as Home Secretary to ensure the findings and recommendations of the ACMD Review are published, so we have the evidence base for developing policy that tackles a key source of anti-social behaviour in our communities and drug driving on our roads,” the PCCs added.
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