SINGAPORE - A SPRAY that relieves muscle pain is now being abused by teens to get a high.
Ethyl chloride spray is legal and readily available.
One mental health expert said he is seeing more people here engaging in this form of abuse.
The New Paper understands from a chemist that this product likely contains nitrous oxide.
Nitrous oxide is commonly used as a propellent in such sprays. It is also an anaesthesia used in hospitals and dental procedures.
It is better known as laughing gas.
Abusing nitrous oxide deprives the brain of oxygen, which can cause death, said a general practitioner.
Young people have died in the US and Britain from such abuse.
A Health Science Authority spokesman said that ethyl chloride spray is an approved local anaesthetic for external use only.
One polytechnic student, who wanted to be known only as Sarah, said she had tried it.
The 20-year-old inhaled it a few times with friends.
It takes only a few minutes to be intoxicated but for Sarah, it was as if "time stood still." The world was distorted, and she could not stop laughing, she said.
"I had no control over my body."
Added Natalie (not her real name), 19, who had also tried the spray: "It's like being tipsy. Everything was funny and I started saying things I wouldn't normally."
But she now realises that it is dangerous and has stopped.
"I realised that I'm ruining myself," she said.
According to Miss Janice Ling, 23, a pharmacist working at NTUC Unity, ethyl chloride spray is classified as a general sales product.
This means that it can be sold to the public without restriction.
However, some retailers are taking precautions. Miss Ling keeps the spray behind the counter.
This is to prevent potential abuse, she said.
She also monitors the sale of the spray closely and assesses all customers before selling it.
Miss Ling said she would ask them what the spray was for. If the person seemed unsure, or was not specific about the injury, that would raise alarm bells.
If the customer aroused her suspicion, she would recommend an alternative product.
Three mental health experts said they have dealt with such abuse before.
One said it is a growing trend.
"This is increasingly becoming an issue," said Mr Daniel Jesudason, 53, managing director of Promises, an organisation dealing with addiction therapy.
To get out of illegal drugs, people use ethyl chloride spray as a "substitute addiction," said Mr Jesudason, who has been in the field for eight years.
Dr Munidasa Winslow, a senior consultant psychiatrist at Promises, said that people often start such abuse due to peer pressure, and that he started seeing such cases about three to four years ago.
Said Dr Winslow: "They want to experiment.People think, 'Hey, it's legal, why not?'" He said this form of substance abuse is a dangerous fad.
"Only real idiots use it," he said.
Dr Winslow has specialised in addiction therapy since 1991.
Some parents expressed concern when told of the abuse.
Mr Rayson Seow, 53, a father of two, was surprised.
The financial services manager believes that teenagers are turning to such things because they are becoming bored and restless.
"If you have something to do and occupy your mind with, it's not something you would try," he said. "What will they think of next?"
Mr Seow also cited the importance of parental guidance and support.
"There is no encyclopaedia teaching them (children) how to grow up," he said.
"It's up to parents do guide their children."
Death from inhaling nitrous oxide
IN SEVERAL parts of the world, like Britain, nitrous oxide is a popular party substance which teens like to abuse.
In Britain, a 17-year-old student died after inhaling nitrous oxide. He suffered a heart attack and brain damage. The North London student had inhaled the substance at his friend's house a month before.
An 18-year-old from Phoenix, US, collapsed at a party after inhaling nitrous oxide. Phoenix police said that she may have inhaled about 130g of the gas before she died.
A 19-year-old was found dead in his fraternity house.
A student from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, he had died from asphyxia after inhaling nitrous oxide.
Numerous small canisters were found near his body. He had been missing for eight days before being found by another student in the fraternity storeroom.
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