POLICE are increasing patrols in parks across the district amid reports of a surge in use of ‘laughing gas’.

Officers from the Braintree community policing team say they have received information about groups of people regularly gathering in parks to inhale the drug, which is also known as nitrous oxide.

The issue is already being looked at by Witham Town Council after empty balloons and canisters were seen scattered around beauty spot and parks.

Essex Police has issued a warning to users about the possible side-effects of the legal drug, and is urging anyone with information about groups using it to contact them.

A spokesman said: “We are warning the public about the dangers of nitrous oxide following an increase in reports of people using the drug across the Braintree district.

“We would like to advise people that this seemingly harmless activity can actually cause serious damage to their health, or worse.

“It is important that we raise awareness of this potentially dangerous activity and we ask families to support us by talking to their children about the risks.

“As part of our response to this issue, we are including this area on our patrol plans even more frequently and are working closely with local partners.”

Witham Town Council is due to debate the reported surge in use in a virtual meeting due to take place on Monday at 7pm.

Councillor Chelsey Jay has put forward a motion which, if approved, will see the town council write to MP Priti Patel and call for her intervention.

Miss Jay wants the Home Secretary to review the current laws and advice surrounding nitrous oxide.

She said: “This is such an important issue that can’t be ignored.

“Our MP must urgently look into the main issues, of the health and environmental impact and challenge the legal nature of recreationally using this drug.

“Our police need more power, instead of only being able to dish out well-intentioned health advice that often gets ignored.”

The use of nitrous oxide is not illegal, however selling or giving it away for recreational purposes is prohibited.

Those who are found to be doing so can face a fine and a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Police say if taken incorrectly, nitrous oxide can expose users to the risk of injury, or even death, from a lack of oxygen.

They say side-effects include dizziness, hallucinations and sounds becoming distorted.

If used on a long-term basis, it can lead to health issues such as incontinence and nerve damage.

Anyone with information about the use of the drug in public is being urged to call Braintree police station on 101.

You can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.