A POLICE force has been accused of failing to take the issue of the recreational drug nitrous oxide seriously amid claims of a rampant problem among young people in a North-East town.

Darlington Borough Council’s children and young people scrutiny committee chair Councillor Cyndi Hughes said Durham Constabulary needed to redouble its efforts to educate people about the dangers of laughing gas, after thousands of discarded cannisters had been found across the borough.

It is believed use of the drug, which in some circumstances can cause blood pressure and breathing problems, burns, heart attacks and brain damage has soared in Darlington in the past year.

The committee has heard nitrous oxide-taking hotspots include Green Park, Eastbourne, Blackwell and Stanhope Park.

Former Mayor of Darlington Veronica Copeland said she had seen “a mountain of discarded cannisters” in the Central Park area, close to college and university buildings.

She said: “I have seen youngsters staggering around during the day while the schools and colleges have been closed. I don’t think youngsters realise the long-term dangers.”

In the six years to 2016, 25 people across the UK died from inhaling the gas.

Responding to concerns raised by the committee Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Green said one challenge the force faced was the gas, which can be bought legally, was largely seen by users as a harmless drug and was not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

He said as the gas was not linked to crimes the only time it came to officers’ attention was when discarded cannisters were found.

Det Chf Supt Green added: “Because of its legal status, nitrous oxide can be difficult for officers to seize, it’s not a controlled drug and can only be seized where a supply offence is suspected.

“We do have one active criminal investigation into possession with intent to supply in Darlington at the moment, but this is the only recorded crime of that type in Darlington since the launch of the Act, which perhaps says a lot about if it is a legal or a health matter.”

“From a policing perspective we tend to use our engagement and education tools to try to tackle this issue, using targeted education in schools amongst other things.”

Cllr Hughes said just because the issue was difficult to address did not mean the police should not give it attention.

She said: “It doesn’t seem as though it is a high priority for the police, but the only reason it was raised is because it is a priority for residents.

“We are seeing these cannisters everywhere, so police should be taking time to explain the risks to people, who are alone or with other young people when they go after a quick high. If there are adverse effects, such as a lack of oxygen to the brain, they are not in a safe position.”