Thousands of Kiwis & their pets took to the street this week to demonstrate against the use of animals to test the safety of ‘party pills’ after the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 was recently passed by parliament. But are the protesters being a bit hasty?
The aim of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 is to regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in NZ by requiring those wishing to import, manufacture, sell or supply psychoactive substances to apply for a licence. The Act defines psychoactive substances as ones which have an effect on someone’s mind. A psychoactive substance will only be approved if it causes no more than a low risk of harm to those who use it.
According to the Act, the decision of whether to approve a substance will be made on the advice of an Expert Advisory Group, made up of people with expertise in pharmacology, toxicology, neuroscience and medicine. The committee is tasked with deciding on the risk of harm based on evidence presented by the applicant to address the following extensive criteria:
• Specific effects of the product, including pharmacological, psychoactive and toxicological effects
• Risks to public health
• Potential of product to cause death
• Potential to create physical or psychological dependence
• Likelihood of misuse
• Potential appeal to vulnerable populations
And this has what has brought the public out onto the streets, with Act Party leader John Banks reported as saying “Test them on the idiots that want to take it”.
What is clear from the Act is that the Expert Advisory Committee is tasked with deciding what kinds of tests they will accept as evidence that a substance is safe. So what does the Act actually say about the use of animals to test ‘party pills’? It’s all laid out very clearly in section 12:
1. If a suitable alternative exists, the committee must disregard evidence presented that uses animals
2. If an alternative does not exist, trials undertaken in NZ must comply with Animal Welfare Act 1999, with methods being refined to cause the least suffering to the animals, and using the minimum numbers of animals required.
3. If undertaken overseas, trials must comply with or exceed the NZ standards.
4. The advisory committee must review the available tests at least annually to ensure the most up to date are used, with particular emphasis placed on replacing animal use, refining procedures and reducing the numbers of animals required (the 3Rs).
As I’ve said before, I don’t think its a bad thing to know whether a product is safe before making it available to the general public. But why just psychoactive substances and medicines? I find it quite amazing that anyone can sell a ‘natural remedy’ with the promise that it will ‘boost your immune system’ and there is no requirement to show the product is safe or effective. After all, some of the most dangerous substances known to man are natural!
I am pleased to see the 3Rs placed centre stage in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. I’m also pleased to see the requirement that tests carried out overseas must be done to the same standard as here in NZ. It always worries me when animal work is forced offshore that it will end up being done under conditions that are less humane than here in New Zealand.
It seems to me from reading the Act that the bar is being set very high, and to provide the evidence required by the committee will cost applicants a lot of money, especially if those tests involve animals. I can’t help but wonder if many applicants will decide that the New Zealand market is not big enough to be worth their while doing all the tests. Especially when the substances can be marketed in other countries without a licence.
Finally, I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that ‘party pills’ are in demand because they replace illegal psychoactive drugs like cannabis, about which we know an awful lot. Presumably the market would disappear overnight if the government decriminalised pot!
I talked about this on FirstLine on TV3 this morning.