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Ariz. Man Charged in Laughing Gas Death
by David Holthouse
May 19, 2000
APB News
ROANOKE, Va. (APBnews.com) -- An Arizona man has been indicted by a federal grand jury for selling nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, to a Virginia Tech student who inhaled the propellant and died.

Andy McCoy bought the nitrous oxide canisters and a device known as a cracker, which releases the gas, from a Web site called bongmart.com. The Web site is no longer online.

Charged is Lawrence C. Teiman, 36, of Phoenix, who owns three stores called Shirts N' Things Inc. and the defunct bongmart.com Web site. He is accused of selling the gas and related paraphernalia, twice to McCoy and to three other unnamed individuals in Virginia.

McCoy, a computer science major, was discovered last November in his Blacksburg apartment with a plastic bag around his head and surrounded by so-called chargers, which are supposed to be used as propellants for whipped cream.

Feeling of euphoria

While nitrous oxide, or N20, has many legitimate uses, some people use it to get high because it produces a feeling of euphoria when inhaled. The gas is commonly used commercially as a food propellant and has become easier to obtain on the Internet.

The charges allege that Teiman sold the substance as a drug and not a food propellant and without providing adequate warnings.

Officials allege that Teiman was selling nitrous oxide with devices designed to allow it to be inhaled as a means of getting high, a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. If convicted on all counts, Teiman could face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $1.2 million fine.

Neither Teiman nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Roanoke Police Department found out about Teiman's alleged activities following McCoy's death. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig "Jake" Jacobsen, who will prosecute the case, said Teiman could not be charged with drug violations.

Not a controlled substance

"It's [nitrous oxide], not a controlled substance, and that's kind of the tricky part. It's similar to GHB [gamma hydroxybutyrate], and until recently that was not a controlled substance. You had to go under FDA statutes, that if you intend to sell something as a drug, you have to label it with adequate warnings and if you don't, then that's a violation," Jacobsen said.

GHB, often referred to as the "date rape" drug, has been used to incapacitate victims by placing the drug in drinks.

Jacobsen said Teiman operated three Shirts N' Things stores in the Phoenix area, which sold what could be considered drug paraphernalia, such as bongs, pipes and drug detoxification kits.

Jacobsen said there is no warrant out for Teiman and that he is expected to surrender to authorities. He will likely be arraigned in Virginia in early June.

MIT student also died

In a similar case last year, Richard Guy, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died of asphyxiation while using nitrous oxide to get high. He was found with a plastic bag over his head.

A survey by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that the use of nitrous oxide and other inhalants peaks at eighth grade, with some experimenting as early as third or fourth grade.

"A person who is rendered unconscious by nitrous oxide is likely to stop breathing within a few seconds as a result of a depressed central nervous system -- brain, brain stem, and spinal cord," according to the Compressed Gas Association, a trade group trying to combat the illicit sale of N2O. "Depression is caused by a combination of the effects of nitrous oxide and the lowered oxygen content that occurs as pure N2O displaces oxygen from the lungs with each succeeding inhalation of the gas; and the person is asphyxiated."

Death usually occurs when abusers, in their attempt to achieve a higher state of euphoria, breathe pure nitrous oxide in a confined space -- in a small room, inside an automobile or other vehicle, or by placing their head inside a plastic bag, according to the association.

Several states have sought to make nitrous oxide a controlled substance under state law.

By David Noack, an APBnews.com staff writer.