The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has postponed its decision on whether or not to ban alkyl nitrites – colloquially known as poppers – and reclassify them into the same category as marijuana and heroin until early 2019.
While the TGA had initially opened the decision to public submissions, with the aim of making a decision by the end of November, it has since extended the submission window until mid-January.
“Prior to making a final decision on possible amendments to the Poisons Standard schedule for alkyl nitrites, the TGA decision-maker has requested that further public consultation be undertaken,” the statement read.
“There will not be a decision announced on alkyl nitrites on November 29, 2018.
“Interested individuals and organisations will be invited to provide submissions in writing by January 15, 2019.”
In lieu of a decision this month, the TGA has announced it will release a discussion paper outlining possible options around access on November 29. These will range from unrestricted sales and pharmacy-only access to prohibited substance status.
Part of the reasoning behind the TGA’s proposed poppers ban was concerns around health impacts, including reported loss of vision and hospitalisation due to methaemoglobinaemia, a condition that results in chest pain, shortness of breath, and possible organ damage.
The TGA has also stated that alykl nitrites can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, and fainting.
However, in a recent submission to the TGA by community health advocate Daniel Reeders and sexual health physician Dr Vincent Cornelisse, the pair argued that cases of vision loss only emerged after the EU banned isobutyl nitrite, which was the most common active ingredient in poppers at the time.
They also argued that recent LGBTI community health advancements indicated that community education and harm minimisation remained the most effective strategies to reduce risks of use, where criminalisation may create a sense of risk in patients needing to otherwise disclose use to doctors.
“Our goal in the submission was to quantify the risks based on evidence, and to highlight the benefits and purposes of poppers use,” Reeders said.
“We are hopeful this meeting signals the TGA are considering alternatives to prohibition that acknowledge queer and party-goer communities are capable of responsibly managing health risks.
“We acknowledge the TGA did not start out with any intention to criminalise queer people – and they might have been a bit surprised by the strength of the community response.
“But over 90,000 gay and bisexual men have used poppers in the last six months, and that’s a lot of people who would, almost overnight, become liable to fines or even prison.”
Including their submission, the TGA have received 40 in total outlining the community impact of a ban so far.
Writing in support of poppers for the Star Observer in September, advocate Steve Spencer labelled the proposed ban a “war on bottoms” and highlighted the importance of poppers among gay and bisexual men.
“It’s not a drug of dependence, nor is it addictive, and it has played a very important role as an enabler of affection, love, and exploration of one’s self and others,” he wrote.
“It’s also always been there for moments of queer celebration.
“They’ve been in our bedrooms long enough, and it’s time to let the adults decide what is best for us, it’s time for queers to decide what’s best for us.”
The TGA will hold public meetings in Sydney and Melbourne at the end of January, before making its decision on the ban.