Laughing-gas theft wipes the smile off Waikato DHB's face
An opportunist thief has plumbed into a Waikato Hospital nitrous oxide line and siphoned off thousands of dollars worth of the gas.
Waikato DHB spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill said bottles of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, were stored under the hospital in a locked area that could be accessed only by external contractors and a small number of Waikato DHB staff.
Staff were alerted to the theft last month after noticing a spike in the amount of gas being used.
Nitrous oxide is commonly used for temporary pain relief.
In three weeks they had used what would normally last 10 to 12 weeks – about $5000 worth.
A source spoken to by the Times suggested the gas could have been stolen to combine with methamphetamine in order to amplify the high – a common practice among drug users.
The source revealed the theft to the Times out of concern that tradesmen working on the hospital upgrade could have been responsible for the theft.
But Hawkins Construction – who are contracted to build the new $113 million Meade Clinical Centre and $40m older persons building – said it was "definitely not" one of their staff or subcontractors.
Hawkins' central regional manager Terry Buchan said they had investigated and were "happy none of our team were involved".
He said the theft occurred outside their building site, so they did not have access to the area where the gas was stored.
Ms Gill said the gas was piped from the bottles into a reticulation system under the hospital to wards and departments.
She said that when they went to investigate, they found a tap had been installed on a section of pipe to siphon the gas.
"Our security staff mounted a covert camera operation in consultation with the police as we suspected people were using the nitrous oxide for recreational purposes by tapping into the supply line with a pipe," she said.
"We advised the companies working on our site – of which there are a large number at present because of the building programme – of our suspicions."
The camera surveillance took place over 24 hours but the thief did not show.
Instead of continuing surveillance, Ms Gill said they shut down access to the nitrous oxide – and fitted collars at all the potential access points in the supply line – given the risk posed to both patients and the "people who were inhaling the nitrous oxide".
In 2005 the Health Ministry declared nitrous oxide illegal as a recreational drug and banned its public sale.
NITROUS OXID: (Also known as laughing gas) causes euphoric effects when inhaled can be extremely dangerous if not administered properly with oxygen misuse can damage breathing passages and nerves that control breathing can lead to permanent brain damage causing tremors and seizures can be fatal.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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