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Coalition Moves Against Importers Of Ephedrine

Press Statement by Associate Health Minister Hon. Jim Anderton
December 9 2003

Coalition moves against importers of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and P pipes

Tougher penalties on importers of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have been agreed by Cabinet this week along with a prohibition on the importation of "P" pipes, Jim Anderton said today.

"Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine are ingredients in the manufacture of the Class A drug methamphetamine and are to be classified as controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act," he said.

"The classifications will give Customs wider powers to investigate importation syndicates including the ability to conduct controlled deliveries as well as allowing for penalties of up to 8 years imprisonment for those caught importing the drugs without a licence," the Progressive leader said.

"The coalition government's intention is to limit the manufacture of methamphetamine by controlling the importation of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine without affecting their legitimate use as prescription and pharmacy only medicines," the Progressive leader said.

In the year 2000, approximately 10,000 tablets of pseudoephedrine were seized by Customs. In 2001, this number had increased to 32,000 and by 2002 254,000 tablets were seized. To date this calendar year Customs has seized 776,900 tablets or powdered equivalent of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from 374 inceptions.

"I have lodged the required notice of motion in the House today and with Parliament's approval I expect these classifications to be in force by February," the Progressive leader said.

The prohibition on the import or supply of pipes used to smoke methamphetamine should be in force before February.

While this step will not stop methamphetamine use, it is being implemented to ensure that young people are not given mixed messages by the unrestricted availability of "P" pipes," Jim Anderton said.

"The coalition government is working to address the problem of methamphetamine through a combination of initiatives which include health promotion, treatment and the strengthening of enforcement powers. It is a serious anomaly that there is no restriction on the import or supply, including sale, of 'pipes' in New Zealand," the Progressive leader said.

Those caught importing and supplying these pipes will now face up to 3 months in prison or a $1000 fine, or both.

Background:

Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine Classification

Domestic Availability to Precursors

Pharmacists and police have worked well together in NZ to make the manufacture and supply of methamphetamine within NZ more difficult. Pharmacists have not found it an easy task but they have made a significant difference. The pharmaceutical industry has taken on the task of investigating alternative remedies to pseudoephedrine-based products. As the availability of pseudoephedrine has become more restricted domestically the importation of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine has increased dramatically.

Unlicensed importations of precursors

Currently, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 there is no offence provision with regard to the illicit importation of precursors. In order to prevent the illicit importation of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine Customs work closely with Health's Medicines Control team, ESR and Police officials to use other powers and means of border control.

For example, under the Medicines Act importers or exporters of these precursor substances are not required to have a licence, but because Ephedrine is a prescription only medicine anyone importing it must have a prescription and cannot have more than a 3-month supply without reasonable excuse.

In the year 2000, approximately 10,000 tablets of pseudoephedrine were seized by Customs. In 2001 this number had increased to 32,000, and by 2002 254,000 tablets were seized. To date this calendar year Customs has seized 776,900 tablets or powdered equivalent of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from 374 interceptions.

The classification of these precursor substances as Class C controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act will provide a serious offence in relation to illicit importation. A licence is required for the importation of Class C drugs and anyone without a licence can be prosecuted for illicit importation of a controlled drug.

Change in Penalties

Currently, when shipments of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are detected at the border the importers are usually prosecuted under provisions in the Medicines Act. However, the Medicines Act provides for relatively minor penalties (a $500 fine or three months imprisonment) and does not require a licence for importation or exportation. The classification of these precursors as Class C controlled drugs means a licence is required for their import and export and the penalty for unlicensed importation increases to a maximum of 8 years imprisonment. It will also allow controlled deliveries under s.12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1978 so that Customs and Police can better intercept these substances in mail or commercial cargo.

Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine

Ephedrine will remain a prescription only drug. Pseudoephedrine is both a prescription drug as well as an ingredient in cold and flu remedies that can be obtained over the counter at pharmacies.

Customs has reported a change in the balance of the tablets with those seized this year being predominately ephedrine rather than pseudoephedrine.

Ephedrine is a substance of concern itself and can be abused as a stimulant, which is why it is currently controlled as a prescription medicine. As such it is difficult to source domestically. The classification being proposed is aimed at the far higher likelihood of abuse as an imported precursor destined for illicit methamphetamine production.

Ephedrine has been used to treat the symptoms of asthma and bronchitis but today is used as a medicine primarily to prevent hypertension associated with spinal anaesthesia, and for the treatment of sinus congestion.

Ephedrine has some potential to cause death. In the 1980s and 1990s a number of reports were made of fatal cerebral haemorrhage and stroke caused by ephedrine consumption. The risk to the public is largely controlled by ephedrine's status as a prescription medicine under the Medicines Act.

Classification Process

Once Cabinet approves the classification of the precursors the Governor ?General will make an Order in Council amending the schedules of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Minister will then lodge a notice of motion in the House to approve the Order in Council, which gets referred to the Health Select Committee. The motion can be moved after 28 days have lapsed from the date the Minister lodges the notice of motion. The House then gets to reject or approve the Order in Council. Once approved the Order in Council comes into force on the date of the commencement order.

Prohibition of "P" Pipes Increase in possession-related offences

Police have reported that increasing numbers of methamphetamine pipes (colloquially known as 'P pipes') are being detected by frontline staff. Detection of 'P pipes' has occurred when search warrants are executed at properties and during searches of people suspected of having committed offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Police intelligence sources indicate that 'P pipes' are being offered free-of-charge to customers of some methamphetamine dealers. They also appear to be available for purchase at some retail outlets and through the internet.

The apparent trend of increasing availability and visibility of 'P pipes' is reflected in Police offence statistics. These statistics show a significant increase in recorded offences for drug-related paraphernalia possession. Total recorded offences in this category have risen from 250 in the 1998/99 financial year to 657 in 2002/03. Police attribute the dramatic rise in recorded offences, particularly over the last 18 months, to the increasing incidence of people using methamphetamine and possessing 'P pipes'.

'P pipe' features

P pipes' are generally made from glass, but can be of any other heat conducting material, such as ceramics or metal. Typically, they have a round bowl with a hole on top and a stem or mouthpiece leading off it. The methamphetamine is placed in the bowl, which is directly heated with an open flame until the drug vapourises. The vapour is then inhaled through the mouthpiece. Penalties

The importation of any pipe or other utensil that is prohibited by a notice in the Gazette, issued under section 22(1A) of the Misuse of Drugs Act is also a prohibited import under the First Schedule of the Customs and Excise Act. This linkage allows the application of all the statutory powers under the Customs and Excise Act 1996 to the enforcement of the current notice.

Any person importing or supplying (including sale) "P" pipes will now be liable to to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to a fine not exceeding $1,000, or both or in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding $5000

Also, under the Customs & Excise Act, the goods can be forfeited on import and may be seized. It would be an offence under the ACT to import the goods carrying penalties of up to $5,000 for an individual and up to $10,000 for a body corporate.

It is already an offence to possess a pipe or utensil for the purpose of committing an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act with the possibility of imprisonment of up to a year and a fine of $1000 or both.

ENDS

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