A designer drug used to launch what became a bungled enterprise among a group of Napier flatmates has brought a "buyer beware" warning from police as the illicit drugs market becomes flooded with cheap substitutes.
The four novices thought what they bought in Auckland to sell in Hawke's Bay was the Class B drug ecstasy.
But ESR analysts now say it's 4-Mec (methylethcathinone), a Class C drug within the Misuse of Drugs Act.
It hasn't stopped their conviction for conspiring to supply ecstasy, while one has also admitted possession and trading of 4-MEC, legal in some countries, marketed alone or in mixtures with other substituted cathinones under such names as "NRG."
Depending on its composition, it has been described as similar to ecstasy, or even cocaine.
In the UK a similar legal high known as 4-MMC or meow meow, is blamed for 42 deaths in the last two years, with another 56 being investigated for the same cause.
While police prefer to have no illicit drugs around at all, Eastern District organised crime unit head Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Foster warned there's "very little real ecstasy around any more" and substitutes are becoming more and more prevalent.
"Don't buy it, because you don't know what you're getting," he said.
"There are all sorts of things on the market which aren't what they're said to be."
Police in Auckland last year seized 6000 4-MEC tablets, Metro Drugs Squad head and former Napier police officer Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill warned: "You could be taking one thing one week, and have one sort of reaction. The next week it could be a totally different drug, even though it's called the same thing, and you could have a more adverse reaction."
The Napier situation was revealed in Court on Tuesday when David James Lothien, 19, was to face charges of conspiring to supply ecstasy and possessing, supplying and offering to supply the drug, laid after police searched a flat in Alexander Ave, Onekawa South, on June 4.
He admitted the conspiracy, and new charges of possession, supplying and offering to supply 4-MEC, and was remanded in custody for sentence on December 9.
The three flatmates at the outset admitted conspiring to supply ecstasy and were sentenced last month to six months' community detention and 100 hours' community work.
The enterprise involved getting a bank loan and driving to Auckland to buy 350 ecstasy tablets to sell in Hawke's Bay.
Visiting the flat on an unrelated matter police detected a waft of cannabis smoke, searched the house and found 29 blue tablets and cash totalling $5265 hidden in a roof cavity, and other evidence.