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Parliament Faces Fantasy

28 March 2002

Today Parliament introduced an order to classify the Fantasy range of drugs as Class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, Associate Health Minister Hon Tariana Turia announced.

This follows on from a Cabinet decision in December 2001, and recent consideration of the issue by the Health Select Committee.

¡§This is the next step in making it illegal for individuals to possess, produce, manufacture, sell, supply, import, or export these dangerous substances", Tariana Turia said.

Fantasy is the common name for a range of drugs including, gamma- hydroxybutyrate (GHB), 1,4 butanediol, (1,4-B) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL). These substances depress the central nervous system. Small doses have a relaxant effect, producing short-term amnesia, while slightly higher doses can put people to sleep, stop people breathing, and cause seizures and coma.

¡§A number of people have been hospitalised after taking Fantasy. I want to re-emphasise my previous messages that people need to realize with these drugs, there is a fine line between achieving the effect the drug taker is seeking, and having an overdose with potentially serious consequences.

¡§It is important for people to know that these substances are very unpredictable. The same dose can affect people in different ways ¡V for example a euphoric dose for one person could sedate another person. Another risk arises, because it has a delayed effect, so there is a greater risk of people overdosing because they take additional doses after a short time.

The Order is based on the advice of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, which conducted a comprehensive risk assessment of these substances. Such experts are a vital part of the new drug classification process, which assess each drug based on its risk of harm to individuals or society.

It is fundamental that the classification is supported with accurate and objective information about the risks of drugs, along with key harm minimisation messages.

"This was a key benefit of the expert committee¡¦s advice, especially when young people are exposed to information from a number of sources ¡V some not always accurate.

¡§To this end, I am pleased that the Ministry of Health is planning to amend its Dance Party Guidelines to include Fantasy information, to complement the information on other dance party drugs such as methamphetamine [speed] and Ecstasy.

The Expert Advisory Committee's report to the Minister along with other information about Fantasy and other drugs, and harm minimisation advice is posted on the National Drug Policy Website http://www.ndp.govt.nz.

"It is important that we as a society are aware of the impact Fantasy can have on individuals families and communities so that we can provide relevant, appropriate information relevant to our communities to help keep them safe" Tariana Turia said today.

Frequently Asked Questions: Fantasy

What is Fantasy?

¡¥Fantasy¡¦ is the common name for Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and its related substances including:

„h 1,4-butanediol (1,4-B)
„h gamma-butyrolactone (GBL)
„h gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
„h sodium oxybate.

These substances have similar chemical structures and effects on humans.

Each of the GHB-related substances converts into GHB in the human body. GHB also occurs naturally in the human body - primarily in the central nervous system. However its exact function is not entirely clear.

It has also been used therapeutically in some European countries and the United States for treatment of alcohol and opiate dependence. It is also an anaesthetic.

GHB and its related substances are also being used as ¡¥recreational drugs¡¦ for their relaxant and euphoric effects. These substances are commonly used as dance party drugs.

GHB and its related substances are most commonly available in a liquid form and are taken orally. They are colourless, odourless liquids usually sold in small bottles or sachets. It has also has been seen in powder and capsule form.

What are the effects of Fantasy?

¡¥Fantasy¡¦ is a depressant drug, which depresses the central nervous system. Small doses can have a relaxant effect, reduce social inhibitions, and can produce short-term amnesia and hypotonia (diminished skeletal muscle tone).

Medium doses can produce drowsiness and sleep for some people.

Higher doses produce general anaesthesia, can also stop people breathing, reduce cardiac output, and produce seizure-like activity, and coma.

This is a ¡¥rule of thumb¡¦ guide only because the same dose can affect different people in different ways - for example, a euphoric dose for one person could sedate another person.

What are some of the key risks?

In the last 2-3 years in New Zealand, there have been an increasing number of people admitted to accident and emergency departments who have had life threatening overdoses of Fantasy. One death has been attributed to the drug. Particular risks for these substances include:

„h The very fine line between the dose required to give the ¡¥desired effect¡¦ and that causing an overdose, which may result in coma, convulsions, vomiting, blocked airways, the person stopping breathing, and death.

„h The onset of the effects is delayed (around 10-20 minutes), which may cause people to consume more of the drug, thinking the original dose was not enough. This may lead to an overdose. Effects can last anywhere between 1-6 hours, or more depending on the dosage.

„h The unpredictability of the effects - especially when combined with other substances like alcohol. Likewise, some GHB-related substances (such as GBL) may be more potent than others.

„h There have been reports of people becoming dependent on these substances if they are taken at regular, high doses, over a long period of time.

„h These substances have been implicated in drug-assisted sexual assaults

„h Driving while intoxicated on GHB-related compounds carries personal and public health risks (eg, drivers falling asleep at the wheel).

„h The effects discussed above are largely short-term effects from one drug taking session. There is little information on the long-term effects of these substances when taken for many months or years.

How can the potential harm from dance party drugs be minimised?

The Ministry of Health¡¦s Dance Party Guidelines pamphlet and associated resource, has some good harm minimisation advice about dance party drugs for those who choose to take them regardless of the law.

„h Possessing or supplying drugs is against the law and may result in a fine or imprisonment
„h All drugs have the potential to cause harm. The safest option is not to take illegal drugs.
„h If you choose to use drugs, be prepared and be aware of the risks.
„h Drugs can affect you differently depending on the drug¡¦s contents, your mood, and the situation.

The Guidelines give important information about staying safe, being prepared, and the risks of dance party drugs. The Guidelines are available on the National Drug Policy Website (www.ndp.govt.nz/drugs/danceparties.html), the Ministry of Health, or authorised providers in each District Health Board.

How can the potential harm from Fantasy be minimised?

„h Because of the delayed effect and small difference between a dose that gives the desired effect and a potentially fatal overdose, people choosing to take these substances should only take a small amount and wait for it to take effect.
„h Using the same drug again may affect you differently. It is often impossible to know just what is in the drug you are taking. There is some evidence that GHB and its related substances (eg, GBL) have different potencies and so there is a risk of overdose.
„h If a person is unconscious after taking these substances you should seek medical help immediately. Do not leave the person alone. You should care for them by safeguarding their airway, positioning them in the ¡¥recovery position¡¦, and administering ¡¥mouth-to-mouth¡¦ breathing if the person has stopped breathing.
„h People should never be left to ¡¥sleep overdoses off¡¦. Overdoses of these drugs can result in people stopping breathing and dieing. Although some people do recover spontaneously, you should call for immediate medical assistance if a person is unconscious.
„h People who have taken the drug should not engage in risk activities requiring concentration and physical coordination such as driving a vehicle, operating heavy machinery or engaging in water-related activities.
„h People should not take these substances alone, or with strangers.
„h People should not take drinks from strangers, or leave their glasses unattended because someone might ¡¥spike¡¦ their drink.
„h Do not take other substances (eg, alcohol) at the same time as the effects can be unpredictable. There is evidence that alcohol compounds the effects of GHB as they are both depressants.

What does the proposed classification of Fantasy mean?

The Government has proposed to classify the ¡¥Fantasy¡¦ substances as Class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. This will mean it will be illegal for people to possess, and supply such substances. Like other illegal drugs criminal penalties are associated with offences involving these substances. A comparison of the different Schedules penalties is shown in the Table below.

Schedule One / Class A Schedule Two / Class B Schedule Three / Class C
„h life imprisonment for importation, manufacture or supply (subject to presumption of supply)
„h up to 14 years imprisonment for conspiracy to commit an offence
„h up to six months imprisonment or $1,000 fine or both for possession „h up to 14 years imprisonment for importation, manufacture or supply (subject to presumption of supply)
„h up to 10 years imprisonment for conspiracy to commit an offence
„h up to three months imprisonment or $500 fine or both for possession „h up to 8 years imprisonment for importation, manufacture or supply
„h up to 7 years imprisonment for conspiracy to commit an offence
„h up to three months imprisonment or $500 fine or both for possession

More specifically, it is proposed to classify these drugs in Part 1 of Class B (ie B1). Class B has three parts, B1, B2, and B3. When drugs are classified as B1 as opposed to B2 or B3 police have wider enforcement powers including the ability to search premises and people without a warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The same enforcement powers are applied to drugs scheduled in A and C1.

More information about the different Schedules in the Misuse of Drugs Act can be found on the National Drug Policy Website (www.ndp.govt.nz - look under the ¡¥other drugs¡¦ tab).

Why was Class B recommended?

Controlled drugs are classified according to the risk of harm they pose. Accordingly, drugs posing a:

„h very high risk of harm should be scheduled as ¡¥Class A¡¦ drugs
„h high risk of harm should be scheduled as ¡¥Class B¡¦ drugs
„h moderate risk of harm should be scheduled as ¡¥Class C¡¦ drugs.

The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs was set up this year to advise the Minister of Health on the most appropriate classification for particular drugs. The EACD, in its advice to the Minister, considered Fantasy under the following criteria:

„h specific effects of the drug, including pharmacological, psychoactive and toxicological
„h likelihood or evidence of abuse, including prevalence of the drug, seizure trends, and potential appeal to vulnerable populations
„h risk to public health
„h therapeutic value of the drug
„h potential for death upon use
„h ability to create physical or psychological dependence
„h international classification and experience of the drug in other jurisdictions
„h other matters considered relevant by the Minister.

After thorough consideration of all the above information, the Committee decided the most appropriate classification for Fantasy was B1. More information, including the EACD¡¦s evidence-based report, composition and Terms of Reference, is available on the National Drug Policy Website (www.ndp.govt.nz).

Where can I find more information?

The EACD¡¦s evidence-based report on ¡¥Fantasy¡¦ is on the National Drug Policy website www.ndp.govt.nz.

The Ministry of Health Dance party Guidelines and associated health resource has health information about Dance parties and specific dance party drugs. The Ministry is currently updating the Guidelines to include fantasy.

Waitemata Health has published a booklet Sorted, which provides information and harm minimisation messages about party drugs (an online version is available at www.whl.co.nz).

New Zealand Drug Foundation¡¦s website http://www.nzdf.org.nz

Urge/Whakamanawa Youth Website http://www.urge.co.nz or http://www.whakamanawa.co.nz

Australian Drug Information Network http://www.adin.com.au

© Scoop Media

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