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The Government Backs Down On Making 'Poppers' Illegal

It was seen as an attack on the LGBT community, with research suggesting 90,000 gay and bisexual men could be prosecuted or fined because of the proposed ban.

Last year, the Australian government announced its plans to prohibit amyl nitrite — a muscle relaxant inhalant also known as "poppers".

In April 2018, The Therapeutic Goods Administration proposed that all alkyl nitrites be upgraded to a Schedule 9 Prohibited Substance alongside drugs like heroin and MDMA.

But on Thursday, they backed down on that decision.

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The proposal parked outcry from the LGBT community, with many regarding "poppers"  as innocuous, helping users to have comfortable anal sex.

Plans to outlaw amyl were stalled for public consultation after the proposal received blow back from medical experts, who raised issues of possible homophobic discrimination.

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Daniel Reeders is a PhD researcher at the RegNet School of Regulation and Governance at Australian National University.

His advocacy organisation The Nitrite Action Group submitted to the TGA and advised the government against the ban.

"I’m relieved by the outcome,"  Reeders told 10 daily.

"It’s a sensible balance between making poppers available and managing the potential for health risks," he said.

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The Nitrite Action Group said that a ban would have drastic consequences on the LGBT community.

"We used research figures to estimate the ban would make up to 90,000 gay and bisexual men criminally liable overnight," Reeders said.

"We looked at the criminal penalties, which range from a couple of thousand dollars fine for possession in Victoria to five years’ prison and a $75,000 fine in the territories," he said.

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The TGA has since distanced itself from the plan, and said that as of February 2020, amyl nitrites will be classified as a Schedule 3 substance.

This means they'll be available for over-the-counter purchase at pharmacies.

Isoamyl nitrite, butyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite, and octyl nitrite will remain as Schedule 4 and will require a prescription to be purchased.

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However, poppers with isopropyl nitrite and n-propyl nitrite that are linked to vision-loss will be classified as Schedule 10 and their purchase will be prohibited.

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, amyl nitrites have recently evolved into a common 'party drug'.

The ADF said poppers  have a "distinct smell similar to dirty socks" and their risks include "life threatening methaeglobinaemia – a blood disorder that can lead to inadequate oxygen supply to body tissue."

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There are barriers to accessing amyl in Australia as no products classified as "pharmaceutical" currently exist on the market.

While many are celebrating today's announcement, experts believe it could be years until amyl nitrites are able to be bought in chemists.

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"Many gay and bisexual men already use the Internet to buy poppers from overseas suppliers, so the challenge now is making sure they’re not buying the unsafe products containing isopropyl nitrite," Reeders said.

"The TGA decision leaves most alkyl nitrites — the ingredients in poppers — exactly where they were before.

It’s up to the state and territory governments to decide if they want to enforce that listing," he said.

Contact Eden on Twitter @edengillespie