Health advocates and LGBTI activists have warned the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) against a ban on the sale and use of alkyl nitrites, or poppers, at a public meeting in Melbourne on Thursday.

The meeting comes after a similar consultation in Sydney last month, which was called after a public outcry in response to the TGA’s proposal to list alkyl nitrates as Schedule 9 Prohibited Substances the same category as heroin.

Artist and queer activist Rhys Kierkegaard attended the meeting to share his concerns about the process.

“It’s pretty concerning that the TGA can’t rule out Schedule 9,” he said.

“We’ve heard evidence today that one third of queer men are using poppers, to make these people criminals is nothing short of homophobic.”

Adjunct Professor John Skerritt of the TGA was quick to assure that no decision has been made.

“The interim decisions were not workable, so [last November] the Ministerial Advisory committee and the TGA decision maker effectively went back to square one,” he told the meeting.

“All options are on the table”

The meeting heard from academics, doctors, and pharmacists, as well as the Nitrites Action Group, an ad-hoc group set up to respond to the issue.

Paul Kidd, spokesperson for the group, was pleased the meeting had gone ahead.

“The TGA should be acknowledged for the fact that they’ve held these consultations, and that they’re being quite candid in saying that the original interim decision wasn’t okay,” he said.

Discussing the use of poppers among gay and bisexual men, Kidd added: “We’ve heard over the last few months lots of personal stories from people that have contacted me and told me that without poppers, that they couldn’t enjoy sex.”

“We’re hopeful of a good outcome here.”

In September last year, the TGA supported a proposed amendment to outlaw poppers.

The interim decision would see poppers moved into the same category as heroin, making the possession, sale, or use of the inhalants a criminal offence.

After a number of queer health advocates met with the TGA to discuss alternatives to the interim ban, the decision was postponed until this year, to allow space for public and community submissions and consultations.

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