NZ drug laws may breach UN treaty

By Steve Deane

Sports Minister Murray MCully. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Sports Minister Murray MCully. Photo / Steven McNicholl

New Zealand's weak laws surrounding the importation and possession of performance-enhancing drugs may contravene obligations under a global treaty the country signed up to in 2007.

Under article eight of the Unesco International Convention against Doping in Sport, signatories pledge to "adopt measures to restrict the availability of prohibited substances". Those measures should include the means to "control production, movement, importation, distribution and sale" of performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs).

A Herald investigation has found some substances on the World Anti-Doping Authority banned list - in particular new-generation peptide hormones - can be easily imported into the country and in some cases are not illegal to possess.

The Herald submitted written questions to Sports Minister Murray McCully 11 days ago asking what had been done to honour New Zealand's obligations under the Unesco treaty, and what plans the Government had to review legislation regarding PIEDs. The minister, who is travelling overseas, did not respond.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sports New Zealand both declined to answer questions, saying they had been asked by the minister to compile a report on the implications of the Australian Crime Commission investigation into the links between organised crime and drug use in Australian sport and it would be inappropriate to comment.

That report is understood to have found New Zealand does not have a problem with PIED use. PIEDs include anabolic steroids, EPO, human growth hormones and peptides.

Documents received under the Official Information Act show the government's medicines regulatory body Medsafe first seized an importation of popular performance enhancing peptide CJC-1295 in 2008 and subsequently flagged it as a "potential risk".

CJC-1295 has been strongly linked to use in the National Rugby League in an ongoing Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation.

A new interpretation means CJC-1295 is now considered to be covered by the Medicines Act, which makes it illegal to import or possess without a prescription.

But penalties in New Zealand for importing restricted medicines are light - a maximum fine of $20,000 and a prison term of six months - and prosecutions are rare because of their difficulty and expense and the prospect of a conviction bringing a soft sentence.

The Crown has brought prosecutions in more than six cases of PIEDs importation since 2009, convicting 10 people.

The harshest sentence was a two-month prison term to be served concurrently with a sentence on a separate narcotics charge; another offender was sentenced to 225 hours' community service; the remaining eight were either granted diversion or fined between $260 and $9500.

"It's all very well having legislation but if the penalties are a slap across the face with a wet bus ticket you are not going to get any interest from the law enforcement people," WADA director-general David Howman said. New Zealand's statutory position was likely down to the ingrained national belief that our athletes were above cheating, Mr Howman said.

"It probably comes down to the attitude that 'it's not going on in New Zealand so why should we worry?'

"But to suggest that any country is immune is peeing into the wind."

While many countries, including New Zealand, were reluctant to introduce legislation based on the WADA restricted list, Australia was a shining example of what could be done, Mr Howman said.

Under Australian law importers of PIEDs can face sentences of up to five years' imprisonment and fines of up to A$110,000. The United States government had also tightened its statutes following the 2003 investigation into the widespread distribution of PIEDs by the Balco lab.

Performance and image enhancing drug convictions

- NZ Herald

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