Tue, Nov 10, 2009
The New Paper
Dicing with death

THEY are touted as a sex drug, called poppers. Like the banned sex pills, Power 1 Walnut and Urat Madu, which led to deaths.

And like those sex pills, poppers can kill.

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Despite this, they are being sold in 8ml bottles at several gay spas here.

The fumes from this highly-volatile liquid are inhaled by some in the gay community during what is called 'chem sex'.

Abuse of the drug can cause permanent damage to health,and even death.

Yet poppers are being circulated.

Three bottles of poppers fell quite easily into the hands of The New Paper on Sunday team investigating this form of drug abuse.

Poppers, which contain amyl nitrite or isobutyl nitrite, were initially used to treat patients with heart problems. Amyl nitrite helps to open blood vessels.

Amyl nitrite is a controlled drug, regulated by the Medicines Act.

But poppers are also said by some to enhance sexual satisfaction.

They are sometimes combined with other drugs like Ecstasy, Ice and Viagra.

Danger drug

Said Dr Seow Swee Chong, Consultant, Cardiac Department, National University Heart Centre Singapore: 'Medications like Viagra, Cialis and nitrates also work by causing relaxation of smooth muscles.

'When combined together with 'poppers', severe reductions in blood pressure can result and lead to death, heart attacks or strokes.'

Dr Seow advised thrill-seekers not to experiment with poppers.

He said: 'My best advice... is to stop using them; and those who have yet to do so, not to start.' And not all will experience enhanced sexual pleasure, he said.

Poppers are readily available at some gay spas or supplied by freelance 'nutritional' salesmen.

Just ask and outcomes the drug.

Out of the 12 gay spas The New Paper on Sunday contacted, five said they would 'rather not talk over the telephone about poppers'.

Their standard reply was: 'Why don't you come over and we'll see what we can do for you.'

Three spas we visited sold poppers only to customers who signed up as members.

At two of the spas in the city, the male receptionists said they were out of stock.

The bottles cost between $25 and $30 each. We saw members take them and quietly shuffle into the spa's dark hallways.

If the spas run out of poppers, salesmen like John (not his real name), gladly sell you their own supply, at a higher price.

We reached John through one of our contacts, and here turned our SMS within 10 minutes.

He met this reporter one afternoon with a box full of poppers from various brands.

John said: 'They're $35 each. If you take three, I'll sell them for $90. Don't worry, if you get caught, just say it's for aroma therapy.'

John didn't stop his sales pitch there.

He also offered what was claimed to be a generic version of Viagra and an exotic aphrodisiac pill called African Black Ants.

His products, he claimed, are not fakes.

Such claims should ring a loud warning bell, especially after fly-by-night salesmen sent men to the grave after giving them banned sex pills like Power 1 Walnut and Urat Madu.

One US-based popper manufacturer claims that all its nitrite-based products are sold for ordinary household purposes.

It said it is not responsible for media claims that its products are said to be 'sex drugs'.

We opened one such bottle and found out that it smelled like a strong solvent.

One gay Singaporean professional, who is in his 30s, said that while poppers may smell like solvents, the effect it gives leads some people to abuse it.

Another user, Daniel, 24, said he was introduced to poppers by an older boyfriend.

Daniel, a student, said: 'At first, I was afraid that it might impair my senses. I had never heard of it before. 'But over time, I got used to the mild headaches.

And at most (sex) parties I go to now, there will always be poppers readily available.'

Daniel added that if poppers are abused, it's hard to maintain an erection.

Poppers seem to be more talked about now, compared with five years ago, judging by the chatter on two local gay forums.

One gay lifestyle website said that in a 2006 survey, many claimed to have used poppers.

They had used them for various reasons - some for the head rush, and some said it made sex less painful.

In Singapore, another survey on a gay website, conducted in March and April this year, showed that more than one in 10 claimed they combined sex with drugs like Ecstasy, Viagra, Ketamine, poppers, GHB and cocaine.

'Smelly socks'

But not all in gay forums agree that poppers should be used during sex.

Some netizens discouraged its use, saying the fumes reminded them of 'smelly socks' and that prolonged use could lead to erectile dysfunction.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said that it is aware that some lifestyle establishments have brought in such chemicals.

But its spokesman warned that, 'the use of alkyl nitrites (the chemical found in poppers) is dangerous as this class of chemicals has been known to cause serious adverse effects such as loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, muscular weakness, coma,and even deaths.'

HSA added that 'with the exception of amyl nitrite, which is regulated under the Medicines Act, all the other chemicals in this class are not medicinal products'.

Lawyer Satwant Singh felt a parallel can be drawn with glue-sniffing.

He said: 'It is not illegal to own glue, but the act of abusing it can be illegal and punishable under the law. The same can be the case with poppers.

'The authorities should step in and investigate the extent of the abuse. They may then classify the drug and prosecute both buyers and sellers.'

This article was first published in The New Paper.


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