Dunne on New Psychoactive Substances

As Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne attended a United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting, Vienna, Austria last month (Marcgh 2014).

Part of his speech outlined New Zealand’s approach to dealing with  New Psychoactive Substances.

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

I want to outline New Zealand’s proposed approach to address the seemingly intractable problem of controlling NPS – a problem which affects our country and many others around the world.

In 2012, the New Zealand Government decided that our drug laws were ineffective at dealing with the rapid growth in NPS, as new substances can be developed at such a rate that each time one is restricted several more become available, therefore keeping one step ahead of any controls. Indeed, in 2011 New Zealand had introduced interim legislation to create temporary bans on the importation, manufacture and supply of substances and banned approximately 40 (mainly synthetic cannabis) substances in under two years.

However, this still required the Government to identify untested and potentially harmful substances which were already being sold on an unregulated market with unknown effects on consumers. The temporary bans also seemed only to enhance the market’s efforts to replace the banned substances with new, potentially more harmful products.

Furthermore, attempts to create ‘blanket’ bans on groups of substances in other jurisdictions appeared to have been little more effective than bans on individual chemicals.

So we decided to take a different approach through legislation which I introduced in 2012, and was passed by Parliament in July 2013 as the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. This legislation is intended to provide sponsors of NPS the ability to demonstrate to a national regulatory authority that their products meet certain safety standards – and if they do, the products may be marketed and sold from licensed retail outlets.

We are currently operating under a transitional regime while regulations are being developed.

However, after six months in operation the legislation has already brought about profound changes to the psychoactive substances market in our country. These include:

  • a product may only receive interim approval if it is considered a ‘low risk of harm’ by an expert committee
  • the sale of products is prohibited from convenience/grocery stores, liquor outlets and petrol stations
  • products are restricted to people aged 18 years and over
  • advertising of products is prohibited and there are strict controls on packaging and labelling

There are currently around 40 products on the market with interim approval. This compares with an estimated 2-300 unregulated products on the market previously.

All products without approval are prohibited by default.

There are approximately 150 retailers with interim licences and a smaller number of holders of other licences such as for import, manufacture and wholesale. This compares with an estimated 3-4000 unregulated sellers prior to the legislation. A number of products have not gained approval,or have subsequently been withdrawn from the market, because they pose greater than a low risk of harm.

Products and the activities of licence holders are being monitored by a national regulatory authority and by local police and health boards. It is early to determine outcomes of what is a unique approach to controlling NPS, but I am confident it will prove to be successful.

New Zealand is of course willing to share its experience with other Member States.

To those like weka (“As much as I hate to agree with PG” just because) I sourced this via a Google search as I knew Dunne had recently been in Vienna. I’ve posted it here because it’s relevant to the discussion – no implication should be taken from this about whether I agree or disagree with any of it.