The Australian Government has postponed its decision on whether or not to ban poppers. In a statement released last week, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced that they would open the matter up for “public consultation,” thus giving the community the chance to say how they feel about amyl possibly becoming illegal. And judging from the backlash over the past few months, there are a lot of people who don’t feel too good about it.
A quick catch-up: the TGA filed a submission in April suggesting that alkyl nitrites should be elevated to a Schedule 9 substance and ranked alongside heroin, MDMA, and DMT in the eyes of the law. The Government had arrived at an “interim decision” to do just that, and it was indicated that everyone’s favourite face-melting inhalant would be made illegal in Australia as of February 2019. That decision was widely condemned by LGBTIQ+ spokespeople and health advocates, however, who suggested that the motivations behind the legal changes were medically spurious at best and discriminatory at worst. Now, the TGA has pushed back their “final decision” until the public have been given a proper chance to have their say.
In their statement, the TGA outlined the main factors that need to be balanced when weighing up whether or not poppers should be outlawed. For starters, they point out that “the products have significant use among a number of groups in the Australian community”—namely, LGBTIQ+ groups. Amyl is a muscle relaxant, making it an invaluable substance when it comes to comfortable anal sex. It is for this very reason that it ought to be treated as a therapeutic good, according to health advocates—and why attempts to have it outlawed have been viewed by some as homophobic.
On the other hand, the TGA notes that there are the purported health risks. “While many people apparently use inhaled alkyl nitrite products without adverse effect, some serious health impacts have been reported in certain users from both inhalation and ingestion of alkyl nitrite containing products,” the statement reads. “These include loss of vision (maculopathies or retinal damage) and presentation in hospital emergency departments and subsequent hospitalisation due to methaemoglobinaemia… a very serious condition which results in less oxygen delivery to bodily organs.”
It’s worth flagging that proper medical literature on the risks associated with amyl use is a little thin on the ground. In their original submission, the TGA pointed to a handful of anecdotal accounts from opthalmologists who had allegedly reported a number of patients presenting with slight retina damage as a result of huffing poppers. Earlier this year, Dr Aifric Boylan told VICE “It is not thought that amyl leads to many long-term issues, but there are some short-term risks… It’s certainly less harmful than many other recreational drugs, and doesn’t lead to physical dependence.”
The TGA will be publishing a discussion paper that further outlines these factors on their website this coming Thursday, November 29. The paper will include “discussion of a range of possible options on access controls”: from general unrestricted sale, through to access in pharmacies, prescription-only access, or prohibited substance status. Any individuals wanting to have a say in the matter will be invited to provide submissions in writing by 15 January 2019.