LOS ANGELES (CN) - Police arrested three people and executed 26 search warrants trying to break up a laughing gas ring in Southern California.
Laughing gas - nitrous oxide - is an intoxicating inhalant. Inhalation can be fatal.
Storefronts across Southern California are selling tanks of the gas, ostensibly for welding or car racing, but actually to be abused, mainly by young people, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
A generation ago, the drug was sold in small propellant cans as "glass frosters" for daiquiris. Most stores pulled it off the shelves after police found people were inhaling it to get high.
As a glass froster, the drug, N2O, allegedly hurt or killed some people by freezing their larynx upon inhalation.
The warrants executed Friday indicate that the drug is being dealt on an industrial scale now.
"During the past year, several adolescents in the Los Angeles region have been killed in car accidents linked to the use of nitrous oxide, and acts of violence have been associated with the inhalation or sale of the drug," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
"Two criminal complaints filed in United States District Court allege that the four defendants - as well as a host of storefronts across Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as the Inland Empire - engaged in 'misbranding' of nitrous oxide because they are distributing nitrous oxide for personal use without a prescription and in containers that do not include proper warning labels."
The Inland Empire is Southern California-speak for Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
Arrested Friday were Edward Valencia, 51, of Lynwood; Federico Valencia, 58, of South Los Angeles; and Rose Marie Cuellar, 20, an employee of LA Rush Inc., which runs stores in Norwalk and Huntington Park, prosecutors.
The Valencias worked or were "associated with" Victor Welding Supply on East 58th Street in South Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
William Victor, 65, of Northridge, was being sought as a fugitive.
Misbranding a drug is punishable by up to a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.