PCC welcomes Government crackdown on ‘laughing gas’ but says it does not go far enough.

March 21, 2023

County Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen has warned further action is needed by the Government to crackdown on the illegal sale and use of nitrous oxide.

Commissioner Allen, who is Joint Lead with PCC David Sidwick for Addictions and Substance Misuse on behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), has responded to a harms assessment report on nitrous oxide by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The report said additional measures were needed to reduce the health and social harms of nitrous oxide and recommended the Government focus on non-legitimate routes of supply including restricting direct-to-consumer sales, restrictions on cannister sizes that are not for legitimate use and restrictions on the volume of sales customers can purchase.

Commissioner Allen, who has led calls for a review of nitrous oxide, cautiously welcomed the report from the ACMD but said the Home Office should follow the approach set by the Dutch government in banning the purchase and use of the drug for non-legitimate use.

In a joint statement, Commissioner Allen and David Sidwick said: “The use of nitrous oxide in our communities is becoming increasingly concerning to us as Police and Crime Commissioners and the wider public.

“Small silver cannisters are now a frequent sight on our streets and at recreational areas in our communities and members of the public are rightly concerned about the impact of the use of this drug on antisocial behaviour and the risks to those who consume it.

“We have led calls for a review of nitrous oxide and cautiously welcome the report from the ACMD. However, we are concerned that it does not go far enough. In response to similar concerns, the Dutch government has banned the purchase as well as the sale of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use, and we would urge the Home Secretary to consider the Dutch experience alongside the ACMD’s advice.

“Whilst the police and courts have the powers to crack down on those who supply nitrous oxide to children and young people in the UK, the criminal penalties for supplying of this drug for non-legitimate use under the Psychiatric Substances Act are rarely used and we will be seeking reassurance that the law will be properly enforced going forward, as the ACMD argues.”

Ministers also called for a tougher approach to the problem when debating the issue in the House of Lords last week.

Labour peer Lord Young of Norwood Green said there was no limit to the amount of nitrous oxide that could be ingested by the larger canisters and warned these can currently be bought on the internet ‘no questions asked’. He asked whether the Government would take urgent action to ensure such canisters were sold to only licenced traders only.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked whether the Government accepted nitrous oxide was a gateway drug and could lead to young people moving on to harder drugs to which Lord Sharpe of Epsom, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, said evidence suggested this to be the case.

Commissioner Allen said she welcomed the ACMD’s call for a crackdown on sales direct to consumers and online sales in addition to improved information and education about the potential harms.

The statement added: “As Police and Crime Commissioners, we fully support the need for improved research and monitoring on the use of this drug and are calling on public health teams to work with policing and the community sectors to discuss how they can address the availability and use of nitrous oxide in their local areas. The law on nitrous oxide needs to be kept under review as we learn more about its effects and impact.

“The report also acknowledges that nitrous oxide appears to be a factor in some serious road traffic accidents and we welcome the recommendation for the Home Office and Department of Transport to explore how it can be added to drug driving protocols, but, with evidence from Holland linking nitrous oxide with 1,800 accidents over 3 years, we must stress, this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency if we are to prevent needless deaths and serious injury on our roads.”

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