The International Journal of Drug Policy says this “increased harm for men who have sex with men”, and community groups call for the decision to be reversed.

“At this stage, there are no plans to review the classification of alkyl nitrites (poppers) as prescription medicines,” a Ministry of Health spokesperson has told express, despite the International Journal of Drug Policy stating that this decision has “increased harm for men who have sex with men.”

Popular among gay and bisexual men, poppers were effectively banned in New Zealand in early March 2020. Previously available to buy at adult shops and sex-on-site venues, the law change saw poppers only legally available with a doctor’s certificate, allowing the to be imported from overseas.


“Statistics suggest 50% of gay men in New Zealand are not out to their doctor. A conversation regarding painful receptive anal intercourse requires you to be out to your doctor if you have one and can get an appointment,” says a disappointed Body Positive Executive Director Mark Fisher.  

“We are definitely in a worse-off position. Some doctors, I know of three, are willing to take personal responsibility for people importing unapproved medicine. In most cases, this is the same product they used to be able to buy over the counter. Now it comes with extra steps and costs to access the same product,” Fisher tells us, nodding to the decision has created a concerning demand for poppers on the black market. “Some are choosing to take your chances and buy a local product of unknown quality out of a backpack at Big Gay Out.”

Fisher concludes by agreeing with the International Journal of Drug Policy. “We have taken a step backward and placed people at greater risk of harm.”

The Ministry of Health spokesperson argues that Medsafe did recognise the value of Alkyl Nitrates for men who have sex with men and consulted with the Burnett Foundation, Body Positive, and the New Zealand Drug Foundation as well as accepted feedback on the law change on their website.

But in somewhat of an own goal, the spokesperson fails to point out that the feedback from all of the organisations, plus website submissions, unanimously stated the law change was a bad idea that would cause further harm. Advice Medsafe chose to ignore.

“Burnett Foundation Aotearoa maintains the position that the decision to add a group entry for alkyl nitrites (poppers) to the New Zealand Schedule as a prescription medicine was made without sufficient community consultation and understanding of the use of poppers amongst gay and bisexual men in Aotearoa,” Burnett Foundation Aotearoa Chief Executive Joe Rich tells YOUR EX.

“We previously recommended that the decision be reversed until a legal and viable alternative was made available,” explains Rich.

“The current classification is an effective ban on a drug that has had low levels of harm in Aotearoa. It directly affects LGBTQI communities who already face greater discrimination and poorer health outcomes. We believe a targeted public health approach focussing on education and behaviour change would be more effective at minimising harm within these communities.”

Submissions that Medsafe received regarding the proposed ban on poppers can be found here.