Dogs will forced to take lethal doses of party pills under a controversial scientific testing method being considered by the Government to determine whether the designer drugs are safe for humans.
The SPCA, animal rights groups and the Greens say using animals to prove the safety of non-medical drugs is "barbaric" and are urging New Zealanders to fight the proposal when public submissions are called for.
SPCA Auckland chief executive Bob Kerridge also urged New Zealanders to force officials into banning the trials.
"Any test at all for this product on animals is quite frankly abhorrent," Kerridge said.
"This is a product that is of no benefit to humans. In addition to doing considerable harm to the animals, it has no beneficial outcome whatsoever. Therefore, [the testing] should not be allowed."
Under current laws, novel recreational drugs, or party pills, are exempt from the rules applied to pharmaceutical companies, which must prove drugs are safe for human use.
Until now, it has been up to the Government to prove party pills are unsafe but it wants to change the law, putting the burden on manufacturers to prove the pills will not cause harm.
According to a Ministry of Health report - "Regulations governing the control of novel psychoactive drugs" - outlining what testing would be needed under the law change, a designer drug "must" go through pre-clinical animals studies and it is "critical" to show a drug is safe for animals before it can be given to humans.
"At the study's completion, animals are sacrificed and tissues from all organ systems examined," the paper said.
Both rats and dogs would be subject to a lethal dose 50 per cent (LD50) test, where doses of the drug increase until half the test group dies. The method is banned in Britain and is not recognised by the OECD.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said that despite a public consultation process, it was "unavoidable" that party pills would be tested on animals - including dogs.
"The Government is committed to minimal use of animal testing, but the hard truth is that scientifically, animal testing is unavoidable to prove that products are safe for human beings," Dunne told the Star-Times. "It is an unpleasant but necessary reality."
Legislation detailing the testing regime will be voted on early next year, following select committee debate that will allow for a period of public consultation.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said current policy was that animal testing in New Zealand should be "minimised" and the ministry was "actively" seeking alternatives to animal testing for party pills. It added: "The testing requirements for products to be approved under the new regulatory regime are not yet determined, though they would broadly resemble the tests new medicines undergo." Those tests include the LD50.
Animal welfare advocates called on New Zealanders to fight the proposed animal testing.
Green Party MP Mojo Mathers said: "I think it is barbaric. Dogs and other animals shouldn't be made to suffer just so that we can get legal highs on store shelves.
"I really encourage people who feel that testing of party pills on dogs and other animals is unethical to speak out against this proposal. Animal testing is cruel and it's not justifiable for party pills.
"Anyone who owns a dog will know that they are intelligent, affectionate animals capable of great loyalty and trust to humans," she said.
"To contemplate subjecting them to such cruel tests that will cause very high levels of pain and suffering, all in the name of allowing people to have a legal high is, in my view, totally unethical."
Once the pills have gone through tests involving dogs and rats and no major concerns are uncovered, they will be tested on humans.
The paper said: "Clinical trials with healthy volunteers need to be conducted in a medical setting with close medical supervision with access to advanced emergency care in the event of volunteers suffering adverse clinical effects.
"As these drugs are by nature psychoactive, volunteers will also need to be closely monitored by a registered psychologist for evidence of adverse psychological events."
The drugs could also "impair judgement of the user and have detrimental effects upon themselves and others, secondary to the user's altered state, such as impaired driving leading to motor vehicle accidents".
The ministry's document outlining the clinical testing process also touches on the "addiction potential" of party pills containing BZP.
It states that previous trials involving rats - that measured the animals' reactions to different substances - had shown they reacted to BZP "in a manner similar to that found with other addictive drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine".
More than 20 million party pills were sold in New Zealand in the five-year period leading up to the Government's 2008 crackdown on the over-the-counter highs.
- Sunday Star Times