CRIMINAL justice workers have urged the Government to re-categorise a legal high after noticing more young people being "exploited" and influenced into taking Nitrous Oxide (N2O) across the district.

N2O, which is also known as ‘laughing gas’, is a gas commonly used in the medical and catering industry but is increasingly being used as a so-called ‘legal high’.

It is a controlled drug under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, making it an offence to supply the drug onto another. Supplying the substance - which could even include passing their friend a nitrous oxide canister - can lead to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

But campaigners say the law needs to go further by recognising it as a categorised drug.

Sofia Buncy, national co-ordinator at the Khidmat Centre and lead on the Muslim Women in Prison Project, has been working in the BD7 area throughout the pandemic.

From her perspective, she calls N2O abuse "a side effect of the pandemic", recalling several occasions where police were called to deal with groups of high teenagers.

And it's not just here. It's a problem seen across Bradford and beyond. Just this weekend, Friends of Ilkley Riverside & Parks disposed of used canisters left by visitors while walkers have reported seeing them along the Goit Stock route in Bingley.

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PCSO Sean Gomersall, who covers the North East Leeds area, tweeted that he is "seeing more and more" of these canisters out on his patrols.

Ms Buncy told the Telegraph & Argus: "There's some level of exploitation here. We're concerned about the vulnerabilities of young people by older people in the community.

"They are bored. There's nothing else to do. People feel like they want their own fun.

"There isn't much awareness or education to young people.

"Covid is exacerbating the situation. Now there isn't the same level of scrutiny in communities where you might be like 'My dad's mate is going to walk across' or 'It's too public'. The streets are really barren at the moment.

"It seems to be a fad or fashion among people much further than Bradford but it's happening.

"It's not like people can smell it like Marijuana, when you're smoking it you can smell it a mile off.

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"Our concern is we're already working with really deprived marginalised communities and you can see this is something that's affecting some.

"There isn't much community awareness or knowledge about this. Even some young kids touching these vials think they're some sort of new game."

West Yorkshire Police said it is teaching young people about the dangers of using nitrous oxide in schools and inputs from Safer Schools Officers.

But Ms Buncy and Sharat Hussain, a youth worker at The Mary Magdalene Project wants more stringent and strict sanctions for selling N2O as well as co-ordinated multi-lingual education campaigns.

Setting out their campaign, the pair want to see agencies like Bradford Council, the NHS, police and community/volunteer workers partner up.

They would also like a Government report to map out the worst affected areas in the country and highlight anyone at risk.

Mr Hussain is urging parents to educate themselves about the drug and start a conversation about it at home. But this is one part of the problem - very few know what risk it poses, Mr Hussain said.

Some grandparents have told volunteers they thought the canisters were pellets for toy guns.

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He said: "If you remember back in the day they used to have glue sniffers. This is actually replacing that now.

"This has a snowball effect. We're back at the same process again where this Nitrous Oxide is in circulation and they're trying it. We have to get the message out there in the schools.

"It has a long term effect with the community as a result.

"We can't turn a blind eye. It can only get worse.

"We've got to step up our game, we've got to step up our reach with young people to community groups in different languages. Whatever it takes.

Naz Shah (Labour, Bradford West) said she had been made aware that volunteers in her ward were worried about a potential "trend".

The MP said she is planning to raise this in Parliament.

Ms Shah said: "It is worrying to see an increase in the use of Nitrous Oxide in young people, especially as there is of lack of education on this. The worry is that this may become a trend.

“Many people are not aware of what this is and the dangers this poses to people’s health.

“I have been made aware that local volunteering groups are playing their part to raise awareness on this and highlight the concerns it poses; I will be echoing their efforts in Parliament too."

The campaign has won cross-party backing.

While Philip Davies (Conservative, Shipley) said: “This wasn’t something I was aware of but I fully understand the concern.

“I am not sure how widespread the issue is but it is something I will be happy to pursue.”

Sarah Muckle, Bradford Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “Despite the increasing use of nitrous oxide as a drug, particularly by teenagers and young adults, far too few people know about the risks.

“As well as being against the law to use it in this way, it can have very serious health consequences, both physically and mentally.

“Repeated use of the gas, or use over extended periods, could lead to oxygen deprivation and brain damage as well as causing headaches, nausea, dizziness, collapse, and even death.

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“There are also the psychological impacts associated with the abuse of any substance which can lead to addiction.

“Although we can see increased use in certain areas where empty capsules are discarded young people are not coming forward to drug treatment services despite support being available.”

Anyone concerned with their use Nitrous Oxide can contact the Bridge One80 service, the district’s commissioned drug service for young people, and other drug treatment on the Bradford Council website. For more information about Nitrous Oxide, you can visit the Talk to Frank website.