Nitrous oxide use is a growing problem in Southwest Detroit, where volunteers say they've found nearly 25,000 whippit cartridges in less than a month of cleanup.
The Southwest Detroit Whippet Wipe Out Campaign on Thursday announced a public health effort to curb use of the substance. Outreach is underway in the city's 48209 and 48210 zip codes, where Detroit police say the problem is concentrated.
A whippit is a small container of nitrous oxide used for making whipped cream that's been repurposed as an inhalant to produce a fast-acting and powerful high.
Those involved in the campaign are trying to spread word of the risks.
“This behavior can be incredibly dangerous — and even fatal in some instances — and creates a public safety issue when thousands of empty cartridges are littered in our streets and parking lots," said Frank Venegas Jr., who runs a manufacturing and construction firm in the area and is part of the coalition. "The small cartridges get in our tires and cause flats and blow-outs and is a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and those traveling on scooters."
This month, a man reportedly high on whippits was arrested after jumping the Fort Street draw bridge as it was rising. He landed, but blew out his tires and damaged a gate. The National Institutes of Health report whippit use has been linked to loss of consciousness, anoxic brain injury, cardiac arrest, and death. Prolonged use can result in spinal cord injury, the agency says.
A Detroit Police Department spokeswoman said nitrous is not new in the city, but police have in the past primarily found tanks — the likes of which your dentist may use for anesthetic — at raves.
The spokeswoman said nitrous canisters are attractive to young people because they can be legally purchased at grocery stores and gas stations, and the high is short so they don't have to fear their parents noticing.
Famous rappers have also been elevating the drug's profile with whippit videos on social media.