Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration will next month decide if new restrictions will be put on the sale of amyl nitrite “poppers”.
Poppers are used recreationally in the gay community to relax muscles for clubbing or to enhance sex but it’s currently illegal to sell, supply or inhale products containing amyl, iso-amyl, alkyl, butyl and octyl nitrites unless prescribed by a doctor.
But poppers can be bought online or in adult stores labelled as “vinyl cleaner”, “DVD cleaner”, room deodoriser or similar.
The health authority is proposing to change the scheduling of alkyl nitrites – including amyl nitrite – to make it so products containing chemicals could only be sold as machine lubricants.
The TGA said the proposed scheduling is aimed at reducing “the misuse and abuse of alkyl nitrites in lubricants and inhalants/’poppers’ for recreational use.”
“There are increasing reports of misuse and abuse of ‘poppers’ containing short chain volatile alkyl nitrites for purposes of recreational use alongside narcotics in the clubbing/dance scene in Australia and globally,” the TGA said.
“Ophthalmologists in Australia are reporting an increase in the number of cases of maculopathies (retinal damage) caused by recreational use of poppers/’lubricants’ containing alkyl nitrites. These reports have also been observed internationally.”
Retinal disease specialist Alex Hunyor told the Canberra Times it was difficult to know how common alkyl nitrite-related maculopathies were, noting little data was kept on numbers of people using poppers.
But related issues had been reported in increasing numbers, and few people had their vision return to normal once damaged, he said.
“There are reports of people having improvement [in their vision] but there’s nothing that we can give them to make it get better,” Dr Hunyor said.
“There is a public health concern about people doing something that can harm themselves.”
But Sydney gay activist and popper user Steven Spencer said the “responsible thing” for the TGA to do “would be to acknowledge the want and need for poppers, regulate its responsible production and use, and engage in public education.”
“Banning substances, pushing them underground, and creating a class of ‘bad people’ out of innocent users of poppers is what creates harm. Regulation and education reduce harm,” he told the Star Observer.
“Did you know that the chemicals in poppers that may leave a little burn on your nose after a long night or the concerns amongst doctors about affected eyesight did not exist until amyl manufacturers needed to circumvent bans on the ingredients of the original blend of poppers?
“The original mixtures and current high-quality poppers from reputable manufacturers generally don’t result in these side effects.”
He acknowledged the TGA had “genuine concerns about impaired eyesight after long term, heavy use of poor-quality and poorly stored poppers.”
“Here are a few quick tips: throw out bottles after a month or two, always refrigerate your bottle, and only buy genuine high-quality poppers, for the sake of you and any lovers you may have over,” he said.
“Call this my swansong as an emphatic poppers user, call it a waste of time and activism, but when will you decide that the government is overreaching?”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is expected to publish its decision in September.