EXCLUSIVE: Deadly drug available on streets for just 50p - and it's legal
Deadly hippy crack is being sold on the streets of the Black Country for just 50p, an Express & Star investigation has revealed.
Our undercover reporter was able to buy 24 canisters of nitrous oxide, a so-called legal high known as hippy crack or laughing gas, for £12.
The legal high was brazenly advertised on the UsedWolverhampton.co.uk and UsedDudley.co.uk websites as laughing gas, along with five balloons for recreational use.
The deal came in the same week as tragic Ally Calvert, aged 18, died after inhaling nitrous oxide from a balloon in Kent.
Posing as a punter, our reporter texted the seller who agreed to meet in a supermarket car park in Tipton.
Money and goods changed hands with no questions.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson today praised the Express & Star investigation and said he wanted tough action on tackling legal highs.
He said: "The dangers of these drugs are plain for all to see.
"I welcome the government's plans to introduce a ban on selling legal highs.
"Drugs blight lives, often fuel criminal activity and therefore their sale needs to be tackled.
"Tough jail terms for dealers are a welcome and strong deterrent.
"I would like to thank the Express & Star for raising this important issue and I will be discussing it in detail with the police."
Hippy crack has been a teen craze sweeping holiday spots abroad and festivals this summer with footballers and revellers pictured inhaling the potential lethal gas.
It is also popular in nightclubs and bars.
The legal high typically uses the gas from whipped cream chargers and consumed through a balloon.
There have been 17 deaths linked to nitrous oxide nationally over the last six years.
Selling hippy crack and other legal highs for recreational use will be made illegal as part of a blanket ban, under proposed government laws.
The sale of legal highs by UK-based websites will also be made illegal but the Home Office will be unable to stop users buying the drugs from overseas websites for delivery by post.
The crime will carry a seven-year prison sentence.
Ministers said the legislation was a significant step towards changing attitudes towards legal highs, which can lead to serious illness and even death.
Mike Penning, a Home Office minister, said: "Young people who take these substances are taking exceptional risks with their health and those who profit from their sale have a complete disregard for the potential consequences. That's why we are targeting the suppliers.
"The public feel these substances are a legal thing to be doing, and it will become an illegal thing. We need to get on the front foot.
"The landmark bill will fundamentally change the way we tackle new psychoactive substances - and put an end to the game of cat and mouse in which new drugs appear on the market more quickly than Government can identify and ban them."
Confirming that simple possession of the drugs will remain legal, the minister said: "It has to be proportionate, what we're trying to do. And it has to be cost effective."
The ban will apply to all substances which stimulate or depress the central nervous system.
Ministers will work with industry to ensure legitimate uses – such as in whipped cream machines – remain unaffected.
The gas is widely available in silver mirrored, torpedo-shaped capsules, often marked as 'whipped cream chargers'.
The Psychoactive Substances Bill is going through parliament.
National Police Chiefs' Council lead for new psychoactive substances, Commander Simon Bray said: "When people buy dangerous drugs they will generally have little idea how potent the drug is or what it may contain. Sadly we have seen too many people losing their lives or becoming seriously ill after taking so-called "legal highs" under the impression that they are safe.
The Government is planning to introduce a blanket ban on selling it as a legal high, with a seven-year jail term as punishment.
Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden said: "I think the concern about these products is increasing and inevitably the debate about banning them will intensify. I think the Express & Star has done good work in exposing how easy it is to get hold of these products."
Although the sale of nitrous oxide for recreational use to under-18s is illegal, possession is not an offence.
When approached by the Express & Star, the dealer said: "I'm doing nothing illegal," before hanging up the phone.
The drug can make people feel relaxed, euphoric and giggly.
But it can also lead to oxygen deprivation, resulting in loss of blood pressure, fainting and heart attacks.
Prince Harry, Coronation Street actress Michelle Keegan and boxer Ricky Hatton are among those who have reportedly used hippy crack.
Earlier this year England footballer Raheem Sterling, 20, got into trouble when footage emerged of him getting high on it.
West Midlands Police drugs expert Detective Constable Vince Jones said: "The use of nitrous oxide is a current trend. This is commonly referred to as hippy crack and is not controlled.
"The diversion of this material is not from hospitals or pharmaceutical suppliers but is generally from the commercial markets, as it is used in the food industry. Dealers are selling the drug by the balloon-full and even advertise near to clubs and bars in town centres.
"The very reason that I personally don't like the term legal high is that the prefix 'legal' implies that they must be safe. There have been reports of damage and fatalities involving nitrous oxide but the evidence is not clear at this point but an obvious danger is the vulnerability of the user in social surroundings and the potential problem of sexual or violent assaults.
"The chief risk has to be the consumption of a substance that you have no information about and no idea what is actually within it. It is very easy to overdose, to the point of death, when using a substance that you have no experience with. I have dealt with many cases when people have died after consuming a substance A that they thought was substance B."
Elizabeth Dutton, president of the Canada-based company which runs the websites where the laughing gas was advertised on, said: "We continuously monitor and adjust our list of prohibited items to meet local regulations and to help maintain public safety.
"Nitrous oxide/laughing gas and other controlled substances are included in our prohibited items list."
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