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Roadside mystery: Discarded cans prompt discussion on inhalant dangers

Times Observer photos by Eric Tichy Whipped cream cans are pictured this week along Route 62 in Warren County, Pa. The cans, dozens of them if not more, have been spotted on the Pennsylvania and New York side of the busy road.

It’s not exactly clear when the whipped cream cans, dozens of them and seemingly spread out at random, began showing up along the shoulder of Route 62 spanning New York and Pennsylvania.

Some white, others light blue and still others distinctly red, the cans can easily be mistaken for randomly discarded trash.

But once you hear about them, they’re hard to miss.

“That is bizarre to say the least,” Steve Kilburn with the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene said Tuesday when apprised of the cans.

While their appearance has left some puzzled, local mental health and resource officials believe the cans are being used for their nitrous oxide — an odorless, colorless and non-flammable gas.

Kilburn said several community partners have been contacted in the last day, and none reported hearing about an increase in the use of nitrous oxide, also known as whippets.

He said the high obtained from inhaling the gas is “fairly short” and questioned whether the cans are being dumped by several people or perhaps one or two individuals over a period of time.

He’s also worried that potentially dangerous inhaling is taking place while an individual is behind the wheel.

“We’re aware that it happens,” Kilburn said of nitrous oxide use. “It probably happens more frequently than most realize.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhalant abusers may experience dizziness, drowsiness, slurred speech, slowed reflexes and general muscle weakness.

Laurie Reynolds, associate director at Prevention Works Inc., said whipped cream cans especially are “definitely an abused substance” as individuals inhale the sweetened fumes to experience a quick intoxication.

“I can’t answer why there are so many bottles on the road,” Reynolds said. “However, it is typically youth who may be driving on the road and using these substances away from their parents, which in turn, just simply throw the cans out the window so no one knows that they are abusing the inhalants.”

Dozens of whipped cream cans can be seen on a miles-long stretch of Route 62, beginning at the Route 60 intersection in New York and as far south as the Warren County School District’s administration building in Russell on the Pennsylvania side.

Their presence was brought to the attention of The Post-Journal and Times Observer late last week by a USPS mail carrier. Two postal workers independent of one another noticed anywhere from 30 to 50 discarded cans of differing brands on their motor routes.

A reporter spotted at least three dozen whipped cream cans on both sides of Route 62 while driving from New York to Pennsylvania and back.

Three cans were lying on the shoulder in front of the school district’s administration building in Russell. Another was observed outside Praise Fellowship Church nearby.

Reynolds said middle school students are more prone to use inhalants as they are “very accessible in the kitchen.” Citing a 2022 survey from Monitoring the Future, she said 3.6% of eighth-graders used inhalants in the past year.

“It’s important that parents are aware of inhalants and the negative side effects of them,” Reynolds said. “They can disrupt heart rhythm, cardiac arrest, or lower oxygen levels which causes suffocation. In addition, the vital organs can be affected long-term.”

She added, “Parents should be sure to have a conversation with their children regarding the negative effects.”

Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone wasn’t aware of the bizarre littering pattern featuring the popular dessert topper. Neither was a clerk with Pine Grove Township in Warren County where many of the cans sit on the side of the road.

Dr. Christopher Cammarata, medical director at UPMC Chautauqua, said the Jamestown hospital has not seen an increase in cases that may be associated with nitrous oxide abuse. Warren General Hospital officials could not be reached for comment.

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