11 April 2014
New Zealand's new synthetic drug legislation raises as many questions as it answers, but deserves close observation in Australia, according to a new report released today.
Drug prevention expert Geoff Munro from the Australian Drug Foundation and Dr Chris Wilkins from Massey University in New Zealand have published a paper New Psychoactive Drugs: No Easy Answer examining the trans-Tasman responses to new psychoactive substances (NPS) – commonly referred to as 'synthetic drugs'.
Mr Munro said they found that New Zealand's move to regulate synthetic drugs is radically different to Australia's approach and leaves many issues unresolved.
"In Australia, governments have banned specific new substances, or groups of substances, on the basis that they are unknown, and likely to cause harm. However, drug manufacturers can modify a banned synthetic chemical and produce a new one in order to sidestep the bans," Mr Munro said.
"New Zealand has introduced a radical new approach to dealing with these drugs that is generating a lot of interest, but there are many issues yet to be worked out."
"Under New Zealand law drug manufacturers can gain approval to sell a synthetic drug legally if they can prove the substance has a 'low-risk' of producing harm to the user.
"The key issue at the moment concerns the testing regime: it is not clear how 'low-risk' will be defined; nor is it clear whether manufacturers or the government could be liable for damages if they approve a drug for sale that is later found to cause harm?
"Another important issue is whether more people will start using the drugs when they are legal, and whether young people will gain access to them."
Other issues identified in the paper which are yet to be addressed include:
- How the drugs will be packaged, and labelled, and how consumers will be warned of the possible side effects;
- the price these drugs will be sold for;
- how much tax will be collected by the government and whether it will be calculated on the drug strength, or per dose or by weight; and
- how the new drugs will impact on workplace safety and road safety.
"These new classes of drugs are posing significant challenges for governments across the world. It's important that we observe the effects of the New Zealand approach and evaluate the new approach to dealing with illegal drugs. The choices we make now could have a big effect on the health and wellbeing of our citizens in the future."
The PolicyTalk paper New Psychoactive Drugs: No Easy Answer is available to read online.
Geoff Munro is available for comment
Media enquiries: Jennifer Willis 0430 948 380 or