Photos By Loren Townsley
Law enforcement authorities Friday arrested three defendants, executed 26 search warrants and seized tens of thousands of pounds of nitrous oxide, or NOS, as part of a federal investigation throughout Southern California.
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A fourth defendant charged as part of the investigation is currently being sought by authorities as part of Operation No Laughing Matter, a multi-jurisdictional effort assisted by sheriff’s stations from all over Southern California.
"It's commonly known as laughing gas," said Lt. Roderick Armalin, explaining the name of the operation. "And it's absolutely no laughing matter."
The operation targeted 17 locations in Riverside, South Los Angeles and the northern portion of Los Angeles County.
Law enforcement officials said they've seen a rise in "NOS parties," where 65-pound tanks of the gas are available and usually sold for $5 to $10 a piece.
And in addition to being, for the most part, undetectable, it's incredible deadly, according to a local expert on drug abuse.
"Here's the scary part of any drug that involves huffing," said Cary Quashen, a local expert on substance-abuse who owns Action Family Counseling. "Twenty percent of those who die from it, it's the first time they do it."
Kids who use it frequently might show some signs, but the high wears off within about two to five minutes, Quashen said.
Sgt. Robert Hill of the Community Oriented Policing Services said one of the goals was to raise awareness and hopefully get more legislation passed that targets illegal use of NOS.
Part of the problem with NOS is that technically it's legal for adults to use it, even recreationally, despite the dangers associated with the gas.
Currently, the FDA is the only agency that can target its usage because its not classified as a narcotic.
Illegal usage is most prevalent among the 13- to 15-year-old crowd, Quashen said.
It's a problem with the legislation as it’s written, Armalin said.
The drug is technically only illegal for minors to use recreationally, according to state law, and it's becoming more and more prevalent everywhere, Armalin said.
There are myriad legal uses, which include automotive, dentistry and for food, he added.
Deputies first became aware of the issue through monitoring social media with the
Sheriff's Department's "electronic triage" unit in downtown L.A., where eight deputies are constantly scanning for illegal activity through social media, said Deputy Tony Moore, of the Electronic Communications unit.
"We use these (social networks) as a forum to get our message out, but in doing that we're also able to identify how they're (using social media) illegally," Moore said.
For parents, it's important to keep an eye on your children's computer activity. One of the things Moore has noticed is a prevalency of hashtags such as #NOS.
"We're always see some of it. It never went away, it's always been there. It's not like marijuana and other drugs where it seems like it's everywhere," Quashen said. "The problem is, we know how deadly it is."
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