OPINION: Enforcement may still be more than a year away, but the announcement on Monday that all so-called "legal high" party pills will have to be removed from sale once new laws take effect will have brought a huge sigh of relief throughout the country. Too many young people have ended up dead or brain-damaged after taking these chemical concoctions.
There is a neatness about the planned legislation announced by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne that seems to offer the best answer yet to a problem that has been plaguing authorities throughout the world: how to gain control over the makeup of such pills without banning them outright and so driving them underground.
The answer Mr Dunne and his advisers have come up with is to put the onus back on to the pill manufacturers, making them submit their concoctions to clinical trials and testing to prove they are safe before the pills can be offered for sale. That will be an expensive process - international drug companies are required to spend billions of dollars testing and proving new products before they can be licensed for sale and it appears unlikely the party-pill manufacturers will have the resources to finance such a testing regime.
The problem with the party pills currently on sale is that the individual chemical ingredients, legal in themselves, when mixed together have had such uneven pharmacology and toxicology risks, especially when mixed with alcohol.
Successive governments in New Zealand have tried banning individual products and, last year, after warnings from doctors and emergency services about the dangers of legal cannabis-like products such as Kronic, the Government introduced temporary bans on any psychoactive substances causing concern. Close to 30 substances and more than 50 products that contained them were banned and there was an immediate impact - emergency callouts relating to such party pills dropped by 75 per cent.
However, the banned products were quickly replaced by others, often equally dangerous, and the experts advising the Government have been forced to acknowledge that such bans simply can't keep up with the emergence of new psychoactive substances.
Mr Dunne has promised that the testing regime for any pills put forward for approval by manufacturers after the legislation takes effect will be rigorous - "It won't be a sort of once-over-lightly process" - and is setting up a special unit within the Health Ministry to oversee the testing and clinical trials.
It appears to be a far neater answer to the party-pill problem than the ad hoc solutions that have been attempted by local authorities and government agencies in various parts of the country in the past, including the innovative decision of the Liquor Licensing Authority in the Wakatipu Basin when it extended the liquor licences of two bottle stores, in Queenstown and Arrowtown, but only on the condition they stop selling party pills.
The combination of such pills and alcohol is known to have caused several deaths as a result of brain haemorrhages, and other young people suffering similar side effects have still not fully recovered several years after collapsing into drug-induced comas.
Dealing with one such death last year, Waikato coroner Peter Ryan warned that people who take herbal party pills with alcohol and other drugs were playing "Russian roulette" with their lives.
With this new legislation the Government appears to have removed the bullet from the gun.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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