TGA to ban poppers, but users want regulation instead

TGA popper ban
A selection of "poppers". Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is planning to ban amyl nitrite products – also known as poppers. But proponents of the sex drug say it will drive a rise in riskier alternatives.

The TGA announced the planned ban because of ‘increasing reports of misuse and abuse’. They also said the drug caused cases of retinal damage as a side effect of use.

“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,” the TGA explained.

Some gay men use Poppers recreationally. It gives users a brief head rush while clubbing and relaxing muscles during anal sex.

While currently illegal to sell, supply or inhale unprescribed products containing alkyl nitrites, poppers occupy a legal grey area. Some suppliers market it labelled as ‘vinyl cleaner’, ‘DVD cleaner’, ‘room deodoriser’ or similar.

The proposed ban would mean those caught selling, using or in possession of the substance would likely face criminal charges.

‘A more targeted ban’

HIV prevention researcher Daniel Reeders said medical records documented very few reports of serious harm. That despite over half a century of popper use.

He said the EU and Canada previously banned the sale of the chemical formulations commonly included in poppers.

“This, in turn, caused some manufacturers to include different formulations.

“Users have reported the reformulated products often cause an intense headache, ‘blue lips’ and a characteristic chesty cough in the days after use.”

He pointed to a study in medical journal The Lancet that attributed the recent cases of “poppers maculopathy” to the reformulation of the products.

“A more targeted ban, leaving long-standing formulations legal, would reduce the risks of rare but serious clinical harms,” he said.

“[It would] prevent the import and widespread uptake of copycat products whose risks are substantially unknown.”

A report in The British Journal of Ophthalmology last year suggested the damage to the popper users’ retinas was being caused by the ingredient isopropyl nitrite.

Petition calling for regulation

A petition is also calling for the TGA to abandon the proposed ban on poppers and instead “regulate the substance for safe use” by receptive sexual partners.

“Poppers are not a drug of dependance or addiction and result in little harm,” activist Steve Spencer wrote in the petition.

“The TGA has proven capable of regulating Viagra (a comparably dangerous substance) for the benefit of active partners.”

The TGA is accepting public submissions into their interim report on rescheduling Amyl until October 10. Submissions can be made here.

The United Kingdom considered a similar ban in 2016. However, the government rejected the idea after an advisory body found the use of poppers incapable of ‘harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem’.

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