Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has been praised for backing down on an outright ban on poppers.
Poppers are an inhalant used recreationally by some in the gay community, relaxing muscles for comfort during receptive anal sex.
Last year, the TGA published its plans to move the group of chemicals used in poppers – “alkyl nitrites” – to Schedule 9 of the Poisons Standard.
This would have made them as illegal as heroin or marijuana, prompting a community backlash.
But the TGA announced on Thursday it had decided against an outright ban on poppers, and will not criminalise their possession and use.
Instead, they decided on different restrictions for the separate types of ingredients.
The most common chemicals found in Australian poppers – isoamyl, butyl, isobutyl, and octyl nitrites – stay restricted as prescription-only medicine.
The TGA banned the ingredient isopropyl nitrite, which some research has suggested caused vision problems.
But the TGA downgraded another compound, amyl nitrite. As a result, Australians may be able to buy poppers containing amyl at pharmacies in the next few years.
In the decision, the TGA admitted changes banning alkyl nitrites from adult shops or sex on premises venues “may adversely affect members of the LGBTQI community in terms of sexual health, sociocultural and psycho-social harm”.
But, it argued, “the supply of alkyl nitrites through a qualified health practitioner would mean that there is an opportunity for counseling and education on safe use and other related public health issues.”
TGA backflip on popper ban is ‘testament to community activism’
The TGA’s initial proposal to criminalise poppers was met with backlash from the LGBTIQ community.
Members of the Nitrites Action Group mobilised dozens of community submissions and met with the TGA to discuss poppers.
HUFF HUFF PASS! Much love and congratulations to the gun team who helped make this happen: @paulkidd @joshuabadge @DrVinCornelisse, @engagedpractx, Julien Nguyen @kanerace and @Change petitioner Steve Spencer. https://t.co/7Dqx7w7tFf
— Nic Holas (@nicheholas) 6 June 2019
Again, huge thanks and congratulations to my comrades on the Nitrite Action Group, @paulkidd and @DrVinCornelisse as well as Julien Tran and @kanerace. That was A LOT of work but it powerfully demonstrates our community’s capacity for informed and effective policy advocacy.
— Daniel Reeders ANU (@engagedpractx) 6 June 2019
Simon Ruth, CEO of Thorne Harbour Health, described the TGA’s backdown as “actually quite remarkable”.
“It’s really a testament to our community’s continued legacy of mobilisation and activism,” Ruth said.
“We can’t take that for granted as other parts of the world haven’t been so successful.”
Ruth said the decision to downgrade amyl goes into effect from February 2020.
After that, this means amyl nitrite could eventually be available in pharmacies. But there aren’t any products currently on the market for this purpose in Australia.
“This a reasonably good outcome, but we’re concerned about what this will mean in the next year,” Simon Ruth said.
“It may be two years before we see amyl nitrites in the marketplace.
“We’re going to potentially see affected communities fall into a grey area.
“We’re now calling on state governments to work with the community to ensure that we don’t see gay men and other men who have sex with men criminalised for possession and use of amyl in the meantime.”
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