Today’s announcement by the Federal Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, that all new psychoactive substances (NPS) will be prohibited from import unless importers can prove they have a legitimate use, will see the creation of hundreds of mobile drug labs and secret production houses start up around the country.
Sex Party President and Eros CEO, Fiona Patten, said the Minister’s media release was very thin on detail. “Will the bans be based on pharmacological mimicry (like Qld and SA) or on psychoactivity (like NSW)? If based on ‘mimicry’, then will they only apply to LSD, MDMA and cannabis as suggested in the new laws (ie sertonergics and cannabinomimetics) or also to other drugs like GHB, amphetamine etc (ie GABAergics, adrenergics, etc)?
She said that the new laws would radically change the supply chain for NPS in Australia. “Bans on imports do nothing to address the desire and the market for drugs at home” she said. “If they can no longer be bought in from overseas, there are plenty of chemistry graduates who have the know-how to produce these new synthetic psychoactive substances within Australia. The federal government may have just inadvertently opened the door to a massive new drug problem”.
Ms Patten said that regulation would be far more effective in controlling NPS and cited the release of new statistics by the New Zealand Star Trust group last week that showed that during 2013, while it was legal to sell approximately 30 NPS in that country, illicit drug offences declined by 22.7%. Paul Glue, head of psychological medicine at Dunedin School of Medicine (NZ) said that “Since the Bill was enacted, we have seen fewer hospital admissions and emergency presentations associated with the use of synthetics”.
During 2013 there were no recorded deaths from NPS in NZ at the same time as 3,764 people died from tobacco use. The New Zealand government collected $42 million in taxes from the sale of regulated NPS and 3.5 million packets were sold. There were 12 positive media stories and 2,843 negative ones on the topic during 2013.
Ms Patten said the proposed regulatory regime invested unworkable powers with the ACBPS to determine if a substance had a ‘legitimate use’ and that it was unfair to allow the agency that seized the NPS in the first place to then consider whether or not that decision had been correct. “Many common herbs like Damiana have a psychoactive effect”, she said. “Will they be banned? And what is a ‘legitimate use’ anyway? Is the importation of a weak NPS as a healthier substitute for tobacco or alcohol, a ‘legitimate use’?
Ms Patten said Australia was about to break into the scenarios and storylines of the highest rated TV show of all time – Breaking Bad. On one level the TV show was a ‘morality play’ about a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He turns to a life of crime producing methamphetamine from a mobile laboratory in the form of a caravan, in order to ensure his family is looked after when he is gone. On another level, the program offers policy makers a compelling and fascinating account of how the prohibition of the new illicit drugs makes organized crime rich and casts misery on average families. Ms Patten strongly advised policy makers to watch the first series before escalating any prohibition on illicit drugs.
She said the negative impacts and dangers of NPS had been overstated in the Government’s Regulatory Impact Statement with little or no evidence produced. There had been little research done on the actual health impact of NPS. On this note she said she was concerned that the Alcohol and Drug sector had not been consulted and possibly were not aware of the RIS.
“The size of the market for synthetic cannabinoid-type products alone is estimated at more than $600 million in Australia”, she said. “If other NPS and individual purchases made via the internet are included, then that figure could be as much as a billion dollars. Considering the size of the market for these products it must be assumed that the vast majority of consumers do not suffer any significant negative health effects.”
Ms Patten said that the solution to the emergence of the New Psychoactive Substances was to legalise an old one – cannabis.