By MONIQUE DEVEREUX
Police and Ministry of Health officials have seized supplies of the party drug One4B from its production laboratory in Timaru.
They took away bottles of a product called Puretech as well as sachets of One4B, which was this week suspended from sale by the Ministry of Health after four users were taken to hospital.
An unnamed importer brings in Puretech, which is repackaged and reformulated as One4B.
Orders to the Timaru factory that makes One4b have been suspended, but demand for the substance, marketed as a dietary supplement, has skyrocketed despite warnings by the ministry, doctors and police that it may be lethal.
The distributing company Outerspace started recalling its supplies on Monday night after being told by the ministry to take One4B off the market while its legality was being investigated.
The ministry believes that the supplement may have breached the Food Act by causing harm to users.
If it has the manufacturers might be prosecuted.
Four Auckland men have been treated in hospital after taking the substance. Three were comatose when admitted, the latest on Monday night.
Over the past 24 hours Outerspace has had more than 300 e-mails and a further 300 phone calls from people wanting to buy the drug.
Mark Barlow of Outerspace said One4b was "always going to be controversial. But I'm happy to work with the ministry until this can be sorted out."
One4b is a close cousin of the illegal drug Fantasy, also known as GBH (grievous bodily harm) or liquid Ecstasy. It is made from a different chemical, but when it is ingested the body's fluids turns it into GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), which is used to make Fantasy. The drugs produce similar euphoric sensations.
The head of enforcement for the United States Food and Drug Administration, John Taylor, told National Radio yesterday that One4b was an "unapproved drug" and was not considered a dietary supplement.
The drug had been banned in the US, meaning it was illegal to make, distribute or market One4b as a treatment for a particular condition.
But Mr Barlow said that while Fantasy was known as the date rape drug, One4b was safe when used properly.
Warnings on the sachets it is sold in advise users strictly not to combine it with alcohol or any other drug, including caffeine.
The three men who ended up in hospital after taking One4b early on Saturday do not believe the drug was at fault.
A spokesman for the group of friends blamed their problems on a water bottle containing another drug.
The spokesman, aged 21, did not want to be named because of the "stigma that goes with taking drugs. I don't want anything to interfere with my chances of employment."
All six of the group that were nightclubbing together on Friday night had taken One4b several times before.
They each took varied amounts of One4b - between 25ml and 80ml - over several hours.
One of the men who were admitted to hospital took the least of the group. A woman who took 80ml was not unwell.
The spokesman said the three admitted to hospital drank from another man's water bottle, which he believed contained Fantasy.
"When they collapsed I was in shock. I couldn't understand what might have happened.
"I did think that perhaps we had a bad batch of One4b. That's why I told the hospital what we had taken and showed them the packets."
The doctors who treated the men at Auckland Hospital told the Herald "[the men] wondered whether their drinks had been "spiked" and maybe they had been, but the symptoms they presented with are identical to those we have seen from toxicity with Fantasy."
By MONIQUE DEVEREUX