Pseudoephedrine: Ending ban could mean more meth on streets

The teacher was struck off for smoking meth on school grounds. Photo: NZME
The ban was put in place to try to limit the amount of meth being made in New Zealand. File photo: NZME
A coalition move to allow pseudoephedrine back on pharmacy shelves will result in more methamphetamine on the street, a Bay of Plenty iwi leader says.

A reformed ex-drug kingpin, however, believes lifting the ban on over-the-counter sales of the decongestant, an ingredient in making P, will not change anything in the drug market and pharmacists say it is an "effective" medication.

It comes after the new coalition government agreed to progress the Act Party policy to reverse the 2011 ban introduced by then prime minister John Key in a bid to tackle P production.

Act leader David Seymour says the ban "doesn’t make" sense with gangs still producing P and no viable alternative for unwell people.

Lifting pseudoephedrine ban ‘damaging’

Tauranga Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley described Act’s policy as "ill-thought-out" and said he believed enacting it would have a "damaging effect on the rest of the population".

"There’s a huge impact on Māori people, particularly with respect to methamphetamine. This will only exacerbate it."

"There’s a reason why pseudoephedrine was taken off the shelves … to keep gangs away from it".

Stanley said gang members used to send people out to buy the drug then make meth from it.

Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley described Act's policy to put pseudoephedrine back on...
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley described Act's policy to put pseudoephedrine back on pharmacy shelves as "ill-thought-out'. Photo: NZ Herald
He described meth as a "major epidemic" in New Zealand.

Stanley said successive governments had not been able to effectively deal with it but the 2011 ban had been "one of those ways of keeping on top of it" and should remain.

Stanley said the drug market was determined by accessibility and believed reversing the ban would put more of the drug on the street.

"The more you got on the street the more it will be used," he said.

"You’re not doing your country any good to put it on the shelves."

‘The boat’s already sailed’

Billy Macfarlane ran a large Bay of Plenty meth operation before turning his life around and founding the Puwhakamua drug rehabilitation programme in Rotorua.

He said taking pseudoephedrine off the shelves and making it illegal to possess "pushed the market prices up at the end of the drug dealers", who turned to importing meth.

Macfarlane backed Act’s policy to reverse the ban, saying it would not make the cost of meth drop.

"It’s not going to change anything now ‘cause the boat’s already sailed.

"I can’t see people going into the chemist to rip off pseudoephedrine now because you[’ve] still got to get it cooked and manufactured you run the risk of getting ripped off again.

"Chemists hold stuff like opioids too, pseudoephedrine holds no more value in the underworld than opioids do."

He described pseudoephedrine as "the most powerful decongestant in the world" and believed it was the most "appropriate" drug to treat congestion.

A kilo a week of meth

Recently retired leader of Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust Tommy Wilson said methamphetamine was "readily available" in Tauranga, with about a kilo a week consumed.

In September, Rotorua police area commander Inspector Herby Ngawhika said P was easier to get than cannabis in the city.

Wilson said reintroducing pseudoephedrine to pharmacy shelves would positively benefit "oldies" with winter cold and flu symptoms.

He said he believed rather than focusing on meth, the Government needed to address the region’s "elephant in the room" - alcohol abuse.

In his view, society "demonised methamphetamine and glamorised alcohol".

Pseudoephedrine ‘actually effective’ - pharmacist

Life Pharmacy Bayfair pharmacist Michael Taylor said pseudoephedrine was "actually effective" for treating congestion.

Pseudoephedrine will be back on the shelves next winter after the new coalition Government agreed...
Pseudoephedrine will be back on the shelves next winter after the new coalition Government agreed to Act leader David Seymour's policy.
He said most pharmacies stocked medications with "abuse potential".

"We’ve previously had codeine-containing products that are now also no longer available and various other ones that we do still sell mostly under what we call restricted or pharmacist-only supply," Taylor said.

"There’s quite a few things that have to be done by a pharmacist-only [supply] and we’re legally required to record patient details, like name and address."

He said a nationwide registry system to share patient information would be ideal to monitor medications with potential for abuse.

"People can theoretically make up details or be shopping around various pharmacies [over the counter or on prescription] because of the fact that we don’t have a nationwide system that shares information."

Without that, such abuse could take "a long time to pick up".

However, he did not expect it to happen before the policy change.

Rotorua’s Unichem Central Pharmacy pharmacist David Honore said he was pleased pseudoephedrine would return to shelves as a "controlled" pharmacy drug.

He said alternative cough and cold sinus medications brought to the market had been "ineffective", while the methamphetamine market had grown "a hell of a lot bigger" than it was in 2011.

Pseudoephedrine registry needed to stop ‘pseudo-shoppers’

Pharmaceutical Society president Rhiannon Braund said pseudoephedrine could be addictive and those wanting it need additional precautionary checks.

She said a national real-time monitoring system was needed "before [Act’s] policy is put into action" to ensure "patient and pharmacy safety".

"This should make it harder for people to pseudo-shop, which means visiting several doctors for prescriptions or pharmacies for the supplies of [the] same product to build up stocks of pseudoephedrine."

Braund said it was an "effective decongestant" but there were alternatives.

Ban ‘doesn’t make sense’: Act

Seymour said pseudoephedrine was banned because of fears it would be used to produce meth "and following assurances there would be alternatives".

"Instead, the evidence shows that gangs have continued to produce P, and people who make and sell P have found faster and cheaper ways of doing it while people miss out on effective cold and flu medication.

"If law doesn’t make sense it shouldn’t stay there for eternity".

Pharmacists would be able to choose whether to stock the medicine.

"The answer for preventing crime isn’t preventing people from doing business."

The party said exact details on how the policy would be implemented were yet to be confirmed.