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Law Enforcement Has Few Tools to Crack Down on Nitrous Oxide Abuse

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Law enforcement officials who are trying to crack down on the growing problem of nitrous oxide abuse have limited options to punish people who sell the gas to those who use it to get high, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

Nitrous oxide, or “nozz,” is a prescription drug inhaled by recreational users to get high, usually from balloons filled from large cylinders. It is also sold as a product to improve car performance. According to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the drug can cause many significant and debilitating side effects, including, in extreme cases, death.

In a news release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office notes, “during the past year, several teens in the Los Angeles region have been killed in car accidents linked to the use of nitrous oxide, and acts of violence have been associated with the inhalation or sale of the drug, according to court documents.” The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department says sales of nitrous oxide as a drug have dramatically increased in Southern California over the past five years.

A person selling nitrous oxide used by someone to get high can be charged with a misdemeanor violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.

While possessing nitrous oxide with the intent to ingest it for non-medical or dental reasons is a misdemeanor in California, intent is difficult to prove, the article notes. In 2009, the state passed a law that makes it a misdemeanor to sell nitrous oxide to a minor.

Southern California officials say the problem is increasing. “I had hoped it would dissipate,” said Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Veronica De Alba. “But it just seems to be getting bigger.”

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