Major concerns have been raised over an apparent growth in popularity of the recreational use of laughing gas or 'hippy crack' as it is known, after several used cannisters of the drug were discovered discarded on Arklow's South Beach by members of the public.
Local Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Fitzgerald has expressed 'major concerns' over the discovery and has vowed to write to his party colleague and the new Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly expressing his consternation at how freely available the potentially deadly substance can be, with users able to buy cannisters online to be delivered to their door.
The drug - nitrous oxide or laughing gas - is not an illegal substance and can be inhaled to get a high. Also known as 'whippets', the pressurised gas cannisters, which are commonly used in the medical field, particularly dentistry, and commercial industry, can be ordered for as little as €20 for ten cannisters, including delivery. The gas is often inhaled through balloons and when used in large quantities can cause the user to faint or pass out.
'This is the first time I've come across this and I would have major concerns about it,' said Cllr Fitzgerald. 'Around 20 empties were discovered by a member of the public on South Beach. People can legally have this stuff delivered to their doors, but the negative impact it can have on your health is huge. I intend to discuss the matter further with the gardaí, but as it's a legal substance, there's very little they can do in law.'
'I'm also going to get in touch with the Minister for Health to express my concerns over how people can legally order this stuff over the internet.'
While users report that 'hippy crack' can cause feelings of euphoria and fits of giggles, there have also been reports of hallucinations, severe headaches and dizziness, with prolonged use reportedly leading to paranoia and users not being able to think straight. Like with any substance, it also carries a risk when mixed with any other drugs such as alcohol.
Heavy use of Nitrous Oxide can cause nerve damage and increased risk of falling unconscious or suffocating. In Dublin, the use of nitrous oxide was suspected as being a factor in the death of teenager Alex Ryan-Morrissey, who passed away in Crumlin Children's Hospital after being found slumped over a wall in May.
'I don't know who it was that was doing this down on South Beach,' Cllr Fitzgerald said. 'You'd assume it's youngsters, but you don't want to stigmatise them either. Whoever it was, I'd urge them to read up on the dangers of what they're doing and have a think about it.'