THE MAYOR of Darlington hopes a government review into making possession of laughing gas a criminal offence will raise awareness of the risks when taking the recreational drug.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes said discarded Nitrous Oxide - also known as NOS - canisters were prevalent throughout the town and called on the police to take the problem more seriously after a lack of action had "normalised" it usage.

"When I raise it with the police they were uninterested and said it wasn't something on their radar," said councillor Hughes.

"That's probably because they've got bigger fish to fry rather than trying to find who's supplying it

"I think it's been normalised because it hasn't been taken seriously by the police. "

The Home Office has asked the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review the harm caused by nitrous oxide.

It is acting following what it calls a “concerning” rise in use among young people, with the substance the second most-used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Councillor Cyndi HughesCouncillor Cyndi Hughes

However, Cllr Hughes admitted that enforcing the new law would be"incredibly difficult"due to Nitrous Oxide's usage in the catering industry.

She said: "The legislation itself is problematic because Nitrous Oxide is also used in the catering industry. There were canisters found behind Morrisons recently, and residents complained, but it was linked to catering.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there have been 36 deaths in Great Britain associated with nitrous oxide between 2001 and 2016.

The sale of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is illegal but it is not a crime to possess the drug and the Government is concerned this is a “significant factor” in its increasing use.

The drug is typically used by being released into balloons from small silver cannisters and inhaled, giving temporary feelings of relaxation and euphoria.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Cllr Hughes also called for more education with young people around the potentially fatal dangers of its use.

She added: "Mine and residents main concern is the possible health risks.

"Young people don't know what's a safe amount and some think they can even take it straight from the canister. As a community, we need to have the conversation.

"If this idea of introducing legislation starts a conversation in Darlington then I'm all for it because the more people know about the dangers then hopefully it will filter to the young people who are using it."

A Durham Constabulary spokeswoman said: “Inhaling Nitrous Oxide can be extremely dangerous – it can result in unconsciousness and ultimately suffocation due to the lack of oxygen.

“Regular use of Nitrous Oxide can also lead to a deficiency of B12, resulting in severe nerve damage which can impact on mobility.”