Teenagers in north Belfast warned they are risking their lives with new gas inhaling `craze'
Teenagers in north Belfast have been warned they are risking their lives by inhaling a potentially deadly gas which they are purchasing online as part of a new "craze".
Large numbers of empty nitrous oxide gas canisters have been found in recent days in and around Marrowbone Park on the Oldpark Road where large crowds of young people have begun gathering, despite lock-down restrictions.
Earlier this week, community workers cleared around 100 young people, aged between 14 and 17, from the park before it was then closed.
SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said a box of the gas canisters, which is also known as laughing gas. can be bought online for as little as £8.
"Parents and young people need to be aware of the dangers of this gas. When this is inhaled, it can cause burns to your throat but it can also be fatal if you continue to use it. You can stop breathing.
"We have seen an increase in the last number of months. It has now got to the stage where residents and people are seeing it everywhere.
"Some young people will use it through a balloon. We are also concerned they are inhaling it from the canister which is more dangerous. When you mix this with other substances such as alcohol or other drugs, there is a bigger risk".
Mr McCusker said the large gatherings were being organised on social media despite lock-down guidelines.
"We recognise it has been a difficult few months," he said.
"Even though they might not get the virus, they are putting other family members at risk".
Mr McCusker said parents need to "come on board to help us try and stop these numbers from building".
"It can be quite intimidating for the residents who live around the park," he said.
"We need parents to prevent their children from going to these parks in large numbers. It's important for them to educate their children about the dangers of drugs".
Police said they were aware of groups congregating in Marrowbone Park.
"Young people who choose to engage in anti-social behaviour must understand it is unacceptable and must stop," he said.
"Worryingly, we have also received reports of empty gas type canisters being left in the area which would suggest that young people may be using these canisters in a way which could be dangerous to their health.
"It is therefore even more important at this time that parents are vigilant and speak to their children about where they are and who they are with and also warn them of the dangers of substance abuse".