PM announces strict pseudoephedrine controls

Prime Minister John Key announced a new Government action plan on methamphetamine today, which includes plans to reclassify pseudoephedrine (a key precursor for meth synthesis) as a Class B2 prescription-only drug.

This means pseudoephedrine will no longer be available in cold and flu ‘remedies’ over-the-counter in New Zealand, prescribers may be limited by strict eligibility requirements, and that only hospital pharmacies will be permitted to stock it.  The change is directly in line with recommendations offered in a report by the PM’s Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman completed in July, and released publicly for the first time today.

The report concluded that, from a medical perspective,  restricting public access to the drug would not have adverse effects on the population, and that safe alternatives to pseudoephedrine are available.

It considered six possible options for limiting access, including the introduction of a real-time electronic monitoring system for pharmacy purchases of the drug, similar to Project STOP in Queensland. Possibly in response to issues raised over privacy infringement, continued stocking of pseudoephedrine in community pharmacies being vulnerable to theft and corrupt access, and broadband availability and costs, this option has now been rejected in favour of more severe restrictions.

In support of his preferred option, Option 5, which is the reclassification as a Class B2 controlled drug, Sir Peter writes:

Option 5 effectively removes pseudoephedrine from legal public access except in very particular circumstances, making control easier at the expense of creating some consumer disadvantage. Exceptions would have to be provided at the border for overseas travellers in possession of small quantities of pseudoephedrine legitimately purchased overseas, such that the offence of possession would have some practical caveats on it. Otherwise, it is an easier option to administer.”

John Key’s announcement also included increased funding for addiction treatment programmes and introduction of Police and Customs dedicated anti-methamphetamine taskforces. For full details see here.

Listen back the Science Media Centre’s background briefing on this issue, held earlier this week.

Dr Chris Wilkins, Senior Researcher and Drugs Team Leader at the Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE) at Massey University comments:

“I think this is a well balanced policy response to the current methamphetamine problem in New Zealand. The combination of prevention, treatment and law enforcement initiatives seeks to address this problem on a number of fronts and consequently seeks to maximise the impact of the package. The plan demonstrates a keen understanding of the complex causes of serious drug use and that there has to be a commitment to prevention and drug treatment to address the root causes of serious drug use and to minimise the related harm on the community.”

Dr Janet Ransley, Senior Lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University and Co-Chief Investigator of an ongoing evaluation of Project STOP comments:

“The best available evidence so far on precursor regulation and restriction as a response to methamphetamine problems comes from the USA, where various states have used different approaches. Two are especially relevant – in Oregon, where pseudoephedrine was made prescription only, and Oklahoma, where it was made pharmacy only and a centralised real-time tracking system was introduced (similar to Queensland’s Project STOP). Both states previously had high rates of methamphetamine abuse and high rates of clandestine laboratory seizures. Both approaches had dramatic effects – a 2008 review found clan labs had been virtually eliminated in Oregon, and reduced by up to 90% in Oklahoma.

“However, the same review found that the overall level of methamphetamines problems had probably not reduced in either state – instead, there seemed to have been a shift in distribution and consumption patterns to other forms of meth, especially crystal meth or ice, and other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Further, now that clan labs were no longer a problem, there was a concern that funding to deal with the continuing meth problem would be reduced.

“Other research from the USA has found that regulation there targeting large-scale producers has had measurable effects on outcomes such as meth related hospitalisations, arrests, and purity, although the longevity of those trends is yet to be studied, but the regulations targeting small scale producers, eg clan labs, has had little overall effect on those outcomes.

“Our study is examining similar issues for Australia, comparing outcomes in Queensland, where Project STOP is widely used, and Victoria, where it is not. We are looking for unintended effects, such as whether there has been an increase in crime against pharmacies, as an alternative way of obtaining precursors. We are also trying to measure the costs of various approaches, to assess which is most cost-effective.”

To follow up with these or other experts on methamphetamine and drug policy, contact the Science Media Centre on (04) 499 5476 or