By Mike Hitch
The proposed ‘War on Bottoms’ rages on as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) vows to continue with amendments which solely regulate the sale of poppers through a pharmacist.
If you’re new to the scene, poppers, also called ‘amyl’ though this refers to a specific type of nitrate, are an alkyl nitrate contained in a small opaque bottle. When the fumes are inhaled, you get a tingly, euphoric head-rush – as well as relaxed muscles and dilated blood vessels which makes anal sex easier.
As well as being used by LGBTQI people for sex, the heady-tingle makes poppers a popular party substance.
They’re currently sold in adult shops and sex-on-premises venues, however, as of February 1 2020, alkyl nitrates will only be attainable from a qualified health practitioner, with a medical prescription for therapeutic use.
Amyl nitrates will specifically be available at pharmacies without the need for a prescription.
A spokesperson from the TGA confirmed with the Star Observer that the “February 2020 Poisons Standard” will still go into effect, noting that products containing alkyl nitrites were already regulated as prescription-only medicines in the December 2019 Poisons Standard. The only difference being that Amyl now gets a pass on Prescription.
“The February 2020 Poison Standard, including all of the proposed changes to alkyl nitrites, has been published and will take effect from February 1 2020,” they said.
The TGA was also clear that the LGBTQI community was involved in tailoring these amendments to the Poisons Standard and noted the opportunity for companies to start creating ‘home-made’ nitrates.
“Prior to making the decision, the TGA held two workshops in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as seeking public submissions, to better understand the views of the LGBTIQ community.
“The move of amyl nitrite to Schedule 3 (Pharmacist Only Medicine) will allow for easier access to products containing the substance, as a prescription will no longer be required. This may also encourage companies to consider supplying products into Australia.”
Usually labelled as leather or VHS cleaners to be sold without Prescription, Amyl became a favourite in the LGBTQI and the swingers scene during the ’70s, having been used as a treatment for angina previously.
In 2018, the TGA met to amend the federal Poisons Standard and put forward a submission to severely restrict the use and availability of the chemicals that make up poppers – making them illegal to use, sell or possess. Star Observer writer, Steven Spencer coined this move as the ‘War on Bottoms.’
A petition circulated online which gained over 5000 signatures, prompting sexual health organisations such as the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations to step in and recommend that the ban not take place.
However, recipes and ingredients for poppers don’t follow a formula, and this information wasn’t available to consumers before the TGA’s testing. The TGA originally proposed the ban because of potential impairment to eyesight after long term, heavy use of poor-quality and poorly stored poppers.
Given their importance to LGBTQI sexual health, these new and impending amendments were the best compromise to a total ban that TGA had to offer.
These amendments still make it difficult for LGBTQI people to comfortably obtain poppers from their GP or pharmacist. There is opportunity for discrimination and harassment, or an unnecessary breach of privacy for LGBTQI people.
Nor do the amendments take into account the reality of spontaneous sex.
Let alone the uncertainty of which pharmacies will actually manufacture and supply poppers – especially if you don’t happen to live in Darlinghurst or Newtown.
And as Steve Spencer points out: “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. It’s also always been there for moments of queer celebration.”
“When gay men, bottoms, women, and young people need something to assist their pleasure and sexual enjoyment like poppers, they’re simply told tough luck. Their access to these things are denied and pushed underground, and any health consequences are blamed on the individual rather than any accountability being taken by the authorities that pushed us to this point.
“This is what stinks about this whole thing, it’s not the amyl – it’s the discriminatory nature of this move; it’s homophobic, it’s misogynistic, and it’s ageist.”
Anyone can make an application to amend the Poisons Standard if you think that these new amendments are a step too far. Details on this process can be found here.