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Doctors warn ‘dangerous’ laughing gas is becoming an ‘epidemic’ amid rise in hospitalisations

Exclusive: We are seeing an ‘epidemic’ of young people’ admitted over abuse of laughing case, warns Dr David Nicholl

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Monday 25 July 2022 17:03 BST
<p>Drug charities warn against the legal high as it has led to fatalities</p>

Drug charities warn against the legal high as it has led to fatalities

Doctors in the UK have warned over an “epidemic” of patients admitted to hospital from laughing gas abuse amid a 257 per cent rise in serious poisonings.

Specialist neurologists and toxicologists speaking with The Independent warned they are seeing young people admitted through emergency departments every two weeks now due to the impacts of nitrous oxide canisters, also called “whippets.”

The Independent understands calls to the National Poisons Information Service have increased by 257 per cent in 2021-22, according to data due to be published later this year.

Data published by the NPIS in September 2021 showed a 3600 per cent increase to 37 people, in 2020-21, and its report said the substance was among the top 10 drugs enquired about for the first time.

However, this is merely the “tip of the iceberg” said Dr Mark Pucci, a toxicologist from Birmingham, as the NPIS only records cases where acute poisoning are flagged.

Nitrous oxide cansiters, called laughing gas or whippets, can be legally obtained and according to research notifications of acute poisoning increased from three in 2011 to 32 in 2020.

In board reports in June, University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire said there had been an increase in theft of the gas from hospitals in recent years.

In September 2021 home secretary Priti Patel asked the government’s independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review the harm caused by nitrous oxide after half a million young people reported taking it in 2019-20.

Dr David Nicholl a neurologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust has said in a warning on Tik Tok “Myself and my colleagues are seeing an epidemic of young people being admitted to hospital off their legs because they’ve been taking whippets.

“We’re seeing dozens of young people coming into hospital because they’re off their legs, some of whom have life changing neurological injuries…you need to be aware this stuff is legal and its dangerous.”

@drdavidnicholl ♬ Whip It - Devo

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