Recreational Drug Using Behaviour and Legal Benzylpiperazine Party Pills
Benzylpiperazine (BZP) is a stimulant drug that produces effects similar to amphetamines (Campbell, Cline, Evans, Lloyd, & Peck, 1973). It has been sold legally in New Zealand in the form of 'party pills' since 2000. The legal status of BZP party pills has been debated in New Zealand as the media reported cases of apparent overdoses and adverse reactions leading to hospitalization (Brogden, 2005; Crewdson, 2007; Reiber, 2005; Rankin, 2006). Representatives of the BZP party pill industry publicly defended their product claiming that BZP party pills were reducing substance related harm by reducing illicit substance use (Bowden, 2007b, p.1). They also claimed that banning BZP would result in an increase in use of illicit substances, especially methamphetamine or 'P' (Barnett, 2007). The overall aim of this thesis is to test the claims that BZP party pills reduce substance related harm by reducing illicit substance use, and to identify potential outcomes of a BZP party pill ban. In addition, the perceived risks of party pill and other drug use will be examined. In chapter one I review key concepts relating to BZP party pill use: recreational drug use, harm reduction, and risk perception. In chapter two the history and New Zealand context of BZP party pills are reviewed. In chapter three, study one qualitatively analyzes BZP party pill marketing material in an attempt to describe the culture and discourse promoted by the BZP party pill industry. This analysis demonstrated that BZP party pills were primarily marketed as part of a recreational drug using culture. In chapter four, study two quantitatively investigated whether BZP party pill use was associated with reduced levels of illicit substance use in a sample (N=796) of first year university students. This study also examined the relationship between risk perception and frequency of substance use. Study two demonstrated that BZP party pill users are generally recreational poly-drug users who used illicit substances equally as often as illicit users who did not use BZP party pills. BZP party pills did not appear to reduce illicit substance use, and therefore harm. For the majority of substances there was no significant relationship between risk and use behaviour. The legal status of substances appeared to be important when participants rated the risks of use. Legal substances (including BZP) tended to be rated as safer than illegal substances. In chapter five, study three qualitatively analyzed 60 interviews with regular BZP party pill users to identify potential outcomes of a BZP party pill ban. A combination of alternatives were likely to be used by BZP party pill users, primarily illicit substances, especially ecstasy, as well as alcohol, and black market BZP. However methamphetamine (P) was an unpopular alternative. Study three also analyzed how BZP party pill users assess the costs and benefits of BZP party pill use. Decisions to use BZP party pills relied heavily on the benefits of use, rather than the costs. In chapter six, the general discussion describes the implications, ethical considerations, limitations, and outcomes of the research.