Keeping up with the chemists:New Zealand needs to maintain tight controls on prescription drugs and to move swiftly to restrict the introduction of new and potentially risky highs
Heroin, cocaine, cannabis: these last-millennium drugs are plant-based products. The drugs of this millennium – the methamphetamines, ecstasy, BZP (benzylpiperazine) and synthetic cannabinoids – are largely man-made, and as organic chemistry advances the illicit drug market is going to become increasingly complex.
Part of that complexity is coming from the diversion of prescription drugs into the black market. Wilkins identifies the increasing availability of pharmaceutical drugs as one of two significant trends we will see manifesting in coming years. This trend is already apparent the in US, where drug deaths, many of them associated with the drugs used in the treatment of pain and anxiety, now exceed road fatalities.
The other allied trend he identifies is the rise of so-called legal highs. Wilkins’ frustrations include the way in which new and untested recreational drugs have been viewed as legal by default and the time it has taken to introduce regulation when harms have begun to appear.
BZP, widely sold in the form of party pills until quite recent times, is a good example.
“The problem with BZP emerged in 2003. Then it took three years to get an R18 restriction – until then any 14-year-old could use BZP – and five years to ban it. You can sell a lot of BZP in five years.”
With the banning of BZP, its manufacturers turned to Kronic, a synthetic cannabis product. This time the manufacturing and sale of these synthetic cannabinoids were banned in August 2011.
“Drugs like these should be banned until proven safe. It is complete common sense. I call it the reverse onus of proof.”