Fine Gael Dublin Mid-West TD, Emer Higgins, has slammed Google for profiting from the sale of nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’, a drug that is leading to paralysis and death, particularly among young people.
Deputy Higgins raised the new craze of teenagers getting high on nitrous oxide – laughing gas – with the Minister with Responsibility for Drugs, Frank Feighan, in the Dáil this week (Wed). She also called on Google to clearly mark the ads with health warnings and asked for a HSE awareness campaign on the dangers of laughing gas.
Deputy Higgins said: “Over the past few months, my local parks in Lucan, Clondalkin, Palmerstown and Rathcoole have become littered with strange, shiny, silver bullets. Many people were shocked to discover that these objects are the residue of a new drug abuse craze among young people.
“Teenagers inhale nitrous oxide – laughing gas – from these bullets to get high and the easy availability of nitrous oxide really is shocking.
“Google is showing search results clearly marked as ‘sponsored’ when certain key words are used to search for the drug. The tech giant is blatantly profiteering by displaying these prominent shopping ads and, by extension, facilitating the abuse of this potentially lethal drug.
“One such website, hosted in Ireland are selling it under the brand ‘Whip it – 50 Pack Whipped Cream Chargers’ at a cost of under €2 per capsule. While this appears to be a business supplying the product for legitimate reasons, the comments by purchasers on the website give the game away. Among many examples of this, one such customer testifies they had ‘zero problems. Works good for whip cream and to trip out.’
“I have raised this issue in the Dáil and Minister Frank Feighan is to be applauded for acting quickly in his new role to investigate it. He has confirmed to me that the HSE is now gathering evidence on the abuse of nitrous oxide in Ireland, which is a welcome first step in tackling this scourge.
“While it is acceptable for some specialist users, such as bakeries or confectioners, to use nitrous oxide for the purpose of whipping cream, it is unacceptable for Google, and the vendors selling the products, to make them so freely available without any vetting of their intended purpose.
“I am calling on Google to stop allowing sponsored ads for these products and to clearly mark the unpaid search results with a health warning. Furthermore, I am calling on my colleague, Drugs Minister Frank Feighan, to explore the practicalities of ensuring vendors selling these products clearly mark them as hazardous on their websites and to implement measures to limit the ability of young people to access them.
“We also need a HSE awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of this substance. Our young people need to be aware that mild symptoms like a headache, or tingling in the arms and legs, or numbness can be the first steps towards ending up in a wheelchair; or worse.
“While this craze for nitrous oxide is new in Ireland, we can see the damage it has caused in other countries. Young people seem to have no idea that this product is killing and paralysing their counterparts elsewhere in Europe.
“In the UK, nitrous oxide has been linked to 17 deaths within three years, according to official statistics. One in 11 young people now use nitrous oxide there, which is higher than the proportion of young people than use cocaine or ecstasy.
“In the Netherlands abuse of the drug is now out of control. A report by the Dutch National Information Centre on Poison shows that the number of recorded cases of nitrous oxide damaging health has increased 10-fold in a 4-year period. 64 young adults in the Netherlands have been hospitalised in the past two years alone.
“While too many young people see it as harmless fun, neurologists are crystal clear about its long-term consequences. The gas depletes the body’s stores of vitamin B12. This causes spinal cord damage and is leading to young people being diagnosed as paraplegic and becoming wheel-chair bound. The average age of Dutch patients confined to wheelchairs as a result of abusing laughing gas is just 22 years old.”
Deputy Higgins continued: “We really need to examine the possibility of severely limiting the availability of this substance.
“Belgium is planning to ban the sale of nitrous oxide to under 18s. The Netherlands is investigating banning it altogether. We should establish whether its legal uses can be fulfilled by other measures and, if so, also move to ban it.
“We need act now, while this craze is in its infancy, to prevent our young people from suffering the same consequences as young people in the Netherlands and the UK.”
NOTES FOR EDITOR
Typing ‘buy nitrous oxide’ into Google will display ads for the sale of nitrous oxide canisters, which are marked as ‘whipping cream’ gas.
An example of an ad that links to an Irish-based company is: https://www.homeloft.ie/products/whipit-50-pack-whipped-cream-chargers
Deputy Emer Higgins displayed one of the cartridges to the Minister with Responsibility for Drugs, Frank Feighan, in the Dáil during the second topical issue debate on Wednesday 15th