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Nitrous oxide stolen from dentist office

Lorna McDaniel

Dentists at the Sierra View Professional Center are concerned for the safety of people in the community after two tanks of nitrous oxide were stolen Wednesday from the center. This was the third theft of the gas from the same dentists within a year.

The gas is harmless, when balanced carefully with oxygen by a licensed professional for use as a mild anesthetic in dental procedures, Dr. Gary Williams said.

“But when taken straight out of the container, without oxygen, it is dangerous,” Williams said. “If it is taken directly into the lungs not through a filter, it can cause hypoxia (suffocation).”

The thieves broke into an out-building on the property at 1064 Riverview Drive, Gardnerville by tearing away a portion of the paneling.

Dr. Timothy Pinther said, “Whoever it is knows exactly what they’re getting into because in the same room we have oxygen and they don’t take those.”

Williams, who thinks that the thefts were done either by kids or serious drug abusers said, “I’m sure there are a lot better ways to get high, but (the gas) is effective.

“(The thieves) think it is fun.”

Williams is afraid that the thieves would introduce the gas to other people and said he was willing to post a reward to get the tanks back to prevent potential injury.

“There is enough gas in those tanks to get an entire army high,” he said.

Doug Swalm, a Douglas County drug recognition expert, said that it was very likely that the thieves might take the nitrous oxide to a party.

He advises parents know where their children are at all times.

“If a parent suspects that their child is using inhalants, seek medical attention immediately,” he said.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is also adamant about recovering the tanks. Information may be provided anonymously by calling 782-7463.

Williams said he could survive the cost of the theft, but said there were other costs that were more important: The potential cost of the lives of the thieves and the loss of comfort to his patients.

The tanks with regulator are valued at about $500 and cost $130 to fill, said Bruce Wise, owner of Douglas Fabrication, the company that provides the tanks to the dentists.

Williams said he preferred using the gas over other anesthetics, because it is taken into lungs and excreted through the lungs.

A patient can breathe it through the entire procedure, and after breathing straight oxygen for five to 10 minutes, the gas is out of the body, he said.

This is beneficial because it allows a patient to operate their vehicle after having dental work, Pinther added.

Williams said the first theft of the nitrous oxide tanks happened around April 30, 1996, the same time that a teen-age boy died and another was hospitalized for inhaling propane.

The thieves broke the lock on the shed during the first theft, he said.

The tanks were recovered empty at the former Douglas County landfille, now a transfer station, he said.

A deadbolt that the dentists put on the door didn’t stop the thieves who took the hinges off the doors to get to the tanks about five months later, Williams said.

And after the dentists invested $2,400 in a security system, they were dumfounded when they found a hole in the shed wall and the tanks gone.

Williams said with type of forced entry, the tanks can be knocked over and “go off like a rocket.”

The volatility of the tanks is why the county requires the tanks to be stored away from the building, he said.

“That’s is why (the tanks) are easy pickings,” he added.

Williams, who has been practicing for 30 years and hasn’t had any other thefts until this year, said the dentists haven’t decided how they will secure the tanks for future use.

He said they have thought about putting the tanks in steel cages or discontinuing the use of nitrous oxide.

“But we really don’t want to do that,” he said, “because it is a wonder adjunct of anxiety relieve.”

The thieves haven’t tampered with the building, Pinther said.

Williams added, “Fortunately, dentists don’t keep drugs readily available in their offices for that reason.”