A new lobby group calling for Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration to not criminalise sex aid “poppers” has created a guide for people who wish to have their say on the issue.
Last September, the TGA published plans to move alkyl nitrites – the ingredients in inhalant “poppers” – to Schedule 9 of the Poisons Standard, making them as illegal as heroin in Australia.
Poppers are used by gay and bisexual men and others to dilate blood vessels and relax muscles, helping receptive sexual partners comfortably enjoy anal sex. The products are not believed to create long-term health issues, unless the user has pre-existing health conditions.
Now the Nitrites Action Group, a collective of researchers and community health advocates, has published a guide to assist those who wish to have their say.
“The LGBTIQ communities have a track record of talking to government in language they understand, and it’s important to continue doing that here,” one of the group’s members, Paul Kidd, said in a statement.
“Under the law, the purposes and benefits of poppers are relevant to the decision, so we’re encouraging people to share their own experience in a written submission.”
Submissions, which close January 15, can be just a couple of paragraphs long and can be made through the TGA’s website, the group said.
Last year, the TGA’s proposal to reclassify the alkyl nitrites caused outrage among popper users in the LGBTIQ community, who have instead called for tighter regulation of the products in a similar way to sex aid Viagra.
After the backlash, the TGA delayed its final decision and extended the deadline for submissions until January 15.
In their joint submission, two Nitrites Action Group members said criminalisation of poppers would make it harder for patients to disclose use to their doctors and community education was the most effective strategy to reduce risks.
Other risks of accidental exposure – poppers can be fatal if the liquid is consumed – could be addressed via child-safe packaging and warnings and instructions on labelling, they said.
‘Serious health impacts in certain users’
On November 29, the TGA released a discussion paper “to assess the possible impact of different approaches to access and safety controls on risks associated with alkyl nitrites.”
“These range from general (unrestricted) sale, through to access in pharmacies, pharmacist only access, prescription only access or prohibited substance status, and whether it is appropriate to apply different access controls to different members of the alkyl nitrite family of substances,” the authority said.
“While many people apparently use inhaled alkyl nitrite products without adverse effect, some serious health impacts have been reported in certain users from both inhalation and ingestion of alkyl nitrite containing products.
“There is some, incomplete evidence that particular members of the family of alkyl nitrite substances may be more toxic than others.”
Studies have suggested that recent cases of maculopathies – retinal damage – identified in popper users by ophthalmologists were linked to one specific ingredient, isopropyl nitrite.
In a joint submission, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and the National LGBTI Health Alliance said the TGA’s interim decision “significantly overstates the toxicity of the substance and the potential for abuse” and is based “upon limited evidence of harm”.
Instead, the proposed ban “will cause far more significant harm through the criminalisation of marginalised populations than that caused by the use of alkyl nitrites,” the submission reads.
“The most appropriate way of managing uncertainty around alkyl nitrite use in the community is through health promotion activities and through healthcare professionals discussing use with individuals in medical consultations.
“This would be significantly more effective, from a cost and public health perspective, than regulatory changes leading to a criminal justice response.”