Police and medics warn that getting nitrous oxide from corner shops is like 'buying a loaf of bread'
The West Midlands' Police and Crime Commissioner says 'not enough' arrests have been made over people misusing nitrous oxide.
Just four arrests have been made in the region, while the number of young people being admitted to hospital has risen.
In some cases, recreational use of the gas has led to permanent disability. and has been described as a matter of 'serious concern' by Simon Foster.
The issue was raised by neurologist Dr David Nicholl, who called for more to be done to tackle the issue. It was at a meeting of the Commissioner's monthly Strategic Policing and Crime Board.
The issue was also debated in Parliament on Thursday (24th November), after reports that some youngsters had been left seriously ill, following misuse of nitrous oxide.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster said:
'I am grateful to Dr David Nicholl for highlighting this important issue. The reported increase in the admissions of patients to hospitals in the West Midlands, as a consequence of the misuse of Nitrous Oxide for recreational purposes, is a matter of serious concern.
'I note in particular that in some cases, misuse is leading to permanent neurological disability. In addition to that, there are also the dangers that arise due to people driving, whilst under the influence of Nitrous Oxide and anti-social behaviour.
'I am giving consideration as to what further action I can take to prevent and tackle the misuse of Nitrous Oxide including, calling on the government to strengthen the regulatory regime and as the Senior Responsible Owner in the recently formed West Midlands Combatting Drugs and Alcohol Partnership, ensuring that the misuse of Nitrous Oxide is addressed in the Strategic Needs Assessment, that is currently being prepared'.
He went to say 'In addition to that, I would urge West Midlands Police to give further consideration as to what can be done to prevent and tackle this issue and in particular to work with partner agencies, such as Public Health and Trading Standards, to make sure it is less readily available to young people.
'I am also calling on retailers immediately, to accept their responsibility to comply with the law relating to the sale of Nitrous Oxide and exercise all due care and attention, in relation to who they are selling it to and the circumstances in which it is being sold and purchased'.
Dr Nicholl said: 'Myself and my colleagues across the West Midlands are concerned at the sizeable number of admissions to hospital as a consequence of Nitrous Oxide abuse.
'This was a neurological rarity pre-pandemic, we began to see a large increase in 2020, and things have further deteriorated this year, with an increasing use of large Nitrous Oxide cylinders.
'Neurologists in every hospital in our region are now seeing patients presenting with this avoidable neurological harm.
'Although most patients will recover, some are left with life-changing neurological injuries, and are unlikely to walk again fully normally. We agree with the British Compressed Gas Association that this material should be more tightly regulated.
'It should not be available in an unregulated manner from corner shops as easy to purchase as "buying a loaf of bread". We hope that by raising this, it will lead to greater focus both as public health issue, in terms of education, but also to take action against criminal suppliers.
'Clearly four arrests in a region of our size is not enough to clamp down on this, we are however keen to work with any other agencies to try and reduce the level of harm to the people of the West Midlands."