Misuse of Nitrous Oxide

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:56 am on 23rd November 2022.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls 10:56 am, 23rd November 2022

I could not agree more. I was going to come to this later, but my hon. Friend has raised it now: he is absolutely right: local radio is fantastic at every level. My hon. Friend and I both know what it is like trying to get around Worcestershire when flooding is coming in; were it not for BBC Hereford & Worcester providing that brilliant support, as other radio stations do, we would not have that help. He raises a brilliant point.

The report moreover reinforces the call by the British Compressed Gases Association for consumer sales to be banned in the UK. This advice has been followed by the Netherlands, which will introduce a ban in January 2023. It seems that anybody who knows anything about this is keen to tackle the problem, but there seems to be a problem with the Government and their agencies.

With all this official information, it is sometimes more meaningful to hear the views of those who have been affected. Earlier this week, I received an email in anticipation of this debate, which, I think, is worth reading out in full:

“Around 5 years ago, I found out that my brother had become addicted to nitrous oxide. He had been introduced to it as a party drug by a friend at university but soon became heavily reliant on it, to the point where he would do it all day, every day. Unfortunately, it turned him from a really kind, intelligent, outgoing and sociable person to a depressed recluse. He developed Psychosis, suffered from hallucinations and became confused. In one incident, he was convinced that I was impersonating his sister. He subsequently became violent towards my parents and me, and one Christmas tried to kill my father by repeatedly bashing his head with a portable speaker. We were all terrified of him. His nitrous oxide abuse led to him drinking alcohol heavily and gambling, and, two years after we learned of his addiction, he took his own life at the age of 25.

I am so angry that someone who had so much potential—he was an elite athlete, had won a scholarship to a top university in the USA and had just started a great job in finance—had his life destroyed by a drug, which many still consider harmless. We really need greater awareness of the harmfulness of the drug, especially amongst young people. Despite how damaging it can be, you will also know that it is freely available with no checks necessary. Indeed, my brother was able to purchase boxes of it on Amazon with next day Prime delivery and it was being openly sold by a shop around the corner from where he was living.”

We all know that drug use is not free from consequences, which vary from misery for users to misery for all the people, family and loved ones around those who have become addicted. If we agree that nitrous oxide is a drug under the 2016 Act, how on earth is it possible that Amazon can deliver large quantities of it and corner shops can sell it to kids? How is it possible that I can go to a freely accessible website that not only offers it by the pallet load, but provides advice on how to use it as a recreational high? How is it possible that the police are apparently not able to tackle this issue? As I say, my PCC is definitely on to it, but it is a problem.