A new recreational drug which gives users a similar high to methamphetamine has burst onto Tauranga's party scene.
The drug, methcathinone, is being used as a substitute to MDMA, which is a key ingredient in ecstasy tablets.
Circulation of the illicit stimulant, most commonly found in its derivative Class C form, is being spurred on by a worldwide shortage of MDMA, according to police.
Police revealed to the Bay of Plenty Times methcathinone is one of several substances contained in tablets being sold on the black market as ecstasy.
Along with the NZ Drug Foundation, they have major concerns about the unknown effects of substitutes such as methcathinone.
"It's [methcathinone] so new that there are no known long-term effects." said NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell. "We do know it can cause vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. There have also been reports of convulsions and memory loss."
Police have also warned many people using methcathinone are unaware they are taking it.
"The problem is that it's being sold as ecstasy and it's not that," said Detective Sergeant Alan Kingsbury.
"So, people believe they're buying that [ecstasy] when they're not. It could be methcathinone along with a number of other compounds."
The stimulant is supposed to produce a period of hyper-alertness and increased energy for users.
Mr Kingsbury said people taking such drugs were putting themselves in serious danger: "It's basically like Russian roulette with drugs.
"People are putting things into their body and they have no idea of the active ingredients ... and they don't know of the effects."
He said there was no difference in price between the MDMA-blended ecstasy pills and those containing methcathinone and other compounds.
"They're sold for about $45 [in the Bay of Plenty area]. The manufacturers sell them as ecstasy and they are not at all concerned about what is actually in them."
A recent drug case before the courts demonstrated this.
Tauranga man Bryce Kamizona pleaded guilty in Tauranga District Court this week to possessing a Class C controlled drug methcathinone, offering to supply the drug and offering to supply cannabis.
According to a police summary of facts, the man was found with more than 100 pills in his car on May 19. After forensic analysis, the 110 pills were confirmed to contain methcathinone, but the 25-year-oldtold police he thought the tablets were just party pills.
As well as keeping some for personal use, Kamizona told police he was planning to give some of the pills to his friends and then sell the rest. He is awaiting sentencing on August 31 .
The NZ Drug Foundation also said it was cheaper for manufacturers to use methcathinone, also known as Meow Meow or M Cat, than MDMA.
"E sells in Auckland for about $50 ... and it gets more expensive as you go down the country," Mr Bell said.
"It's about $60 to $80 in Wellington and around $90 in the South Island.
"So they [manufacturers] are definitely making more using substitutes because its all being sold as E."
WHAT IS IT?
Illicit stimulant substance chemically similar to amphetamines. It's classified as a Class B drug, but is commonly found in its derivative form which is a Class C Drug.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Effects are similar to that of speed - users experience a rush of energy and feel extremely alert during the high.
HOW IS IT SOLD?
Methcathinone is part of a range of substances being used to replace MDMA in Ecstasy. Usually a white, off-white or yellowy powder, pill or capsule.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?
Adverse effects include convulsions, vomitting and nausea. Have also been reports of memory loss.
Meow Meow, M Cat, Kitty Cat
The NZ Drug Foundation says because Methcathinone is such a new drug there are no known long term effects of its use.
Source: NZ Drug Foundation