A ‘hippy crack’ craze that has claimed at least 17 lives across the country has been labelled “not dangerous” by a South Ribble Councillor.
Drug campaign groups and fellow councillors have criticised Labour’s Derek Forrest, who is more concerned about litter than health concerns linked to inhaling nitrous oxide - known as laughing gas.
In recent months, residents across Lancashire have raised concerns about the use of the banned psychoactive substance, having found dozens of empty canisters in parks and other public spaces.
Police have warned youngsters they are putting their lives at risk and have vowed to step up patrols, but Coun Forrest - a solicitor and dad-of-three - posted to an internet forum: “The truth is there is no danger from these cylinders and their usual use with a balloon.
“You get two minutes of a high and that’s it, no addiction, no harm, but alas a litter problem.”
According to research from the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, nitrous oxide was responsible for 17 deaths in the UK between 2006 and 2012.
You get two minutes of a high and that’s it, no addiction, no harm, but alas a litter problem.Coun Forrest
In 2014, 22-year-old Brighton University student Aaron Dunford died from asphyxiation, caused by inhalation of nitrous oxide and chronic nerve pain.
His inquest heard he inhaled so much laughing gas he wasn’t even able to walk down the stairs due to chronic nerve pain due to a B12 vitamin deficiency.
Simon Rothwell of Young Addaction Lancashire said: “What this councillor has said is far too simplistic.
“The reality is there are far worse things out there - it’s not as bad as synthetic cannabinoids like Spice, and bingeing on alcohol has worse long-term risks - but nitrous oxide is not without harm.
“In large quantities it is an asphyxiant, so during the evening it’s basically depleting your oxygen levels.
“You’re going to notice it if you do 15 plus balloons, but probably people will do one or two.
“There’s also a personal safety issue. So anybody off their heads for even two minutes is vulnerable and more subject to accidents and things like that.”
Coun Forrest denied he was being irresponsible. He said: “I’m not encouraging people to use it, but I’m worried parents will be children coming home clinking with cylinders will think they have committed a crime tantamount to taking something akin to heroin.
“It’s only dangerous if you use a massive cylinder and you go all day.
“But you can’t do that unless you break into a dentist’s surgery.
“There’s no way you’re going to die by breathing in a balloon.”
He added: “People get very excited, parents particularly. They are going to start thinking their kids are going to die.
“It’s too easy to put bad headlines in a people and get people running around.
“What concerns me is that they leave these cylinders lying around. If you’re going to do it, then pick them up and take them home.
“Alcohol and tobacco are the worst drugs, let’s keep it in perspective.
“With a lot of these drugs it’s more dangerous to go horse riding.”
Farington Coun Paul Wharton, who is working with residents and police to tackle the issue in his area, said: “I’m very shocked to read Coun Forrest’s comments and find them totally inappropriate. I have contacted the leader of South Ribble Labour group to highlight my serious concerns”
Labour Leader Coun Paul Foster said: “The local Labour Group fully supports the legislation that criminalised the use of illegal highs and disassociates itself completely with any comments to the contrary.
“The evidence is clear that all types of highs are potentially lethal and as such we have a duty as parents too protect our children from them.
“I will be urgently seeking clarification from Coun Forrest as the statements attributed to him but I make the point that these are his personal views and not ones we as a group agree with in any way.”
Mr Rothwell added that South Ribble Council has been “very proactive” in responding to worries about the use of nitrous oxide by commissioning Young Addaction to carry out outreach work in areas of concern.
In May a blanket ban on so-called ‘legal highs’ came into force in the UK.