Taipei City Government's Bureau of Health yesterday set up a special team to cooperate with the police in a crackdown on teenage use of laughing gas (nitrous oxide) in pubs.
Chen Ho-liung (陳合良), the police director leading the crackdown, said he did not know the source of the laughing gas used in pubs.
"But currently most laughing gas is used as an anaesthetic in medicine and dentistry," he said.
The health bureau yesterday vowed to investigate and regulate the distribution of laughing gas in Taipei.
Research indicates that any mixture that is over 80 percent nitrous oxide has a toxic effect on humans.
Direct inhalation of the drug allows levels as high as 100 percent into the body.
The short-term effects of laughing gas inhalation include relaxation, hypersensitivity, vision disturbance and hallucinations. Consistent abuse of the inhalant can lead to permanent damage to the nervous system, lungs, kidneys and other organs and, in the case of pregnant women, can threaten the health of a developing fetus.
Chiang Yu-mei (姜郁美), section chief of the health bureau responsible for drug control, said they were informed recently that teenagers in some pubs get high by inhaling laughing gas that has been put into balloons.
She said the special task force will be investigating distribution of nitrous dioxide in the city.
"It probably started one or two months ago. We are going to further investigate abuse of the inhalant in order to understand [the new craze] as well as find out where the laughing gas is coming from," she said.
Though cases have been reported, police have yet to catch anyone red-handed.
Chen said local teenagers might have moved on to laughing gas because they have less access to ecstasy since the authorities stepped up a campaign to stamp out its use.
"Besides, they don't have to pay much to get high with laughing gas. A balloon filled with laughing gas costs about NT$100," Chen added.
Chiang said the import, manufacture and use of nitrous oxide for medical purposes must be licensed by the Department of Health (
Only doctors are allowed to administer laughing gas, and must do so only in hospital surroundings.
Health bureau officials said that any hospital or clinic found to have sold or provided laughing gas for recreational use would have its license suspended for up to a year, and could also be subject of fines of up to NT$150,000.
They added that certified agents that distribute laughing gas to hospitals and clinics would be fined up to NT$150,000 if caught distributing to those without a health department permit.