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Blackmarket concern for party pills

Published: 6:03PM Thursday June 28, 2007 Source: One News

There are concerns a move to ban party pills and classify them as a Class C1 drug - the same categorisation as cannabis - will create a blackmarket and push people to use harder drugs

The government is drafting legislation that will amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to ban BZP and related party pills, which are currently available for sale to those over 18.

"It's not really an option to do nothing. Once you're told by clinical experts that what's being sold at the corner dairy can kill people, and you do you un- know that," says Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton, who has championed the move.

Possession of the pills will lead to a $500 fine or three months in jail and anyone supplying or manufacturing BZP products could face eight years jail.

The move to ban the pills follows a recommendation from the expert advisory committee on drugs but the party pill industry says it will drive people back to more dangerous substances.

"Our concern is that, we know from the available research that up 50 to 60,000 people have moved across from harmful drugs - like P - to party pills and our concern is they'll return to more dangerous drugs," says Matt Bowden from the Social Tonics Association.

He also believes it will force the industry underground.

"What does happen if you make it illegal is you do create a black market and you lose all your quality control," says Bowden.

The Green Party agrees.

Green MP Metiria Turei says a move to prohibition is foolhardy and will create an illegal market. She says there are health issues relating to all drugs, but the way to counter them is through strong regulation on their sale and use, not force them underground.

The Drug Foundation is also questioning the value in banning the pills.

Executive Director Ross Bell says you can't hide the fact many New Zealanders do take drugs and this could sway their choice. He says making party pills illegal could influence people to take harder banned substances.

Bell says tighter regulations would be a far better idea for the government to control the use of BZP.

But Anderton says he is confident making BZP illegal won't create a black market or lead to increased use of other drugs such as methamphetamine. He says recent research on university students gave an overwhelming result that students are wise enough to know methamphetamine is a dangerous drug.

"If you don't take action and a 14, 15,16-year-old dies tomorrow from taking taking BZP what do you think the headlines will be to government inaction. They'll be pretty significant. That's why we've got to take action now," says Anderton.

The author of a report into party pill use in New Zealand says banning BZP is the right thing to do.

Dr Chris Wilkins from Massey's Centre for Social and Health Outcomes (SHORE) published a study in 2006 into the use of party pills.

The random survey of 2010 people aged 13 to 45 years found that 20% had tried legal party pills and 40% of 18 to 29-year-olds.

Wilkins was surprised at the numbers of people who had tried party pills, saying initial estimates were closer to 5% than 20%.

"There has been no research on the long-term effects of BZP or the role BZP may play in psychological illness. Consequently, there was a strong case for stricter regulation of the use and sale of party pills and on balance a ban appears to be the low-risk decision. It will be interesting to see if a blackmarket develops and the extent to which the authorities can control any criminal trade that develops," says Wilkins.

Alongside the decision to reclassify party pills, it has also been announced that there will be a complete review the Misuse of Drugs Act.