A designer drug, linked to the recent death of a British 14-year-old, has been entering New Zealand as a plant food.
Customs officers have noticed a recent "upward" trend in the imports of mephedrone, a substance readily available online because of its use as a plant fertiliser.
In Britain the drug has been implicated in the death of a 14-year-old at a party in Brighton last month, and was reported to be widely used on the club scene.
In New Zealand the Alcohol Drug Helpline said it has been monitoring mephedrone for two months. Clinical director Mel Johns estimated 80 per cent of ecstasy tablets now being sold in New Zealand contained mephedrone.
In a statement issued yesterday, New Zealand Customs Service drug investigations manager Mark Day said there had been an "upward trend" in imports of substances containing mephedrone.
"We have only just begun to closely monitor and quantify the trade. So at the moment we cannot give accurate statistics."
Recent publicity about the use of mephedrone as an illegal drug has prompted Customs to review its approach to targeting mephedrone.
The Customs statement said mephedrone was also known as 4-MMC and was an analogue of the Class B controlled drug, methcathinone, meaning it was classified as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.
Mephedrone could have legitimate use as a plant food, but "could also be converted into a drug which could be abused by some groups", the statement said.
However, after communication with the Health Ministry yesterday, Customs officials said the information in its statement was out of date, and a new statement about the drug would be released on Monday.
Customs did not specify which information in the statement was out of date.
However, Johns said drug users did not need to convert mephedrone for personal use.
"You don't have to do anything with it," he said.
"It's here in New Zealand and before it hit the headlines people were bringing it in from websites overseas, but it looks like Customs are aware of that now and are clamping down."
The drug was being sold as a substitute for ecstasy tablets, or people were knowingly using it as mephedrone, Johns said.
It caused similar results to ecstasy, and its negative effects were "quite significant", he said.
Johns warned no research has been done on the drug.
Its long-term effects are unknown.
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell also said a number of people had enquired about the drug.
By KEITH LYNCH
December 12, 2009