Law enforcement authorities have arrested three defendants and executed 26 search warrants as part of a federal criminal investigation into the sale of nitrous oxide – an inhalant ostensibly offered for use as a booster in sports cars, but in reality being distributed solely for recreational drug use.
Documents related to the investigation allege that nitrous oxide is being sold by stores across Southern California that purport to sell the gas for welding or car racing applications, but in fact are merely distributing a drug used by young people at rave-style parties.
A fourth defendant charged as part of the investigation is currently being sought by authorities, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
Nitrous oxide is a dangerous prescription drug that is inhaled by recreational users, typically from balloons that are filled from large, compressed gas cylinders. The drug can cause many significant and debilitating side effects, including, in extreme cases, death. During the past year, several adolescents 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.
Sales of nitrous oxide as a drug have dramatically increased in Southern California over the past five years, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Two criminal complaints filed in United States District Court allege that the four defendants – as well as a host of storefronts across Los Angeles and Orange counties – engaged in “misbranding” of nitrous oxide because they are distributing nitrous oxide for personal use without a prescription and in containers that do not include proper warning labels.
A 73-page affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaints outlines a 15-month investigation dubbed “Operation No Laughing Matter,” a reference to laughing gas, a commonly used name for nitrous oxide. The prescription drug has legitimate uses, such as an anesthesia, but is used also for recreational purposes to create a temporary, euphoric rush.