A new synthetic drug called Crack is being sold at Auckland dairies - with one outlet even offering to sell glass pipes to people who buy the white powder.
The product has been condemned as irresponsible by the Drug Foundation, illicit drug users and a pioneer of the legal high industry.
Crack is sold under the street name shared by the illegal drugs crack cocaine and methamphetamine, and comes in a clear plastic bag in a cardboard packet featuring an image of a glass pipe.
The packaging encourages users to snort or smoke the white powder - the same methods used to consume P or cocaine - but does not list its ingredients or the contact details of its manufacturer or distributor.
APNZ visited all the legal high stockists on Auckland's Karangahape Rd.
Two sold Crack - Walia Superette, where it was openly displayed behind the counter, and tobacco shop Shosha, where it was concealed in a cupboard next to the cigarettes. It retailed at both for $75 for 200mgs.
The seller at Walia Superette said Crack did not come with a pipe, but he offered to sell a glass pipe for $20. He did not ask for any identification.
When asked, he said the substance was "completely safe".
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell condemned the product as idiotic and irresponsible.
"The industry likes to claim that they are providing safe alternatives to illegal drugs, but their behaviour is no different from what we see in the criminal black market, where customers don't know what they're buying, they don't know what the product has been cut with."
It is understood at least one Auckland dairy was bullied into stocking Crack, but later pulled the product from its shelves.
Mr Bell said legal high industry sources had confirmed the bullying tactics, but none would reveal who was responsible for making and distributing Crack.
"The people behind Crack have a reputation in the industry as being pretty aggressive, and again it's not the behaviour you would expect of a industry that's trying to promote themselves as being responsible."
Mr Bell said even illicit drug users were outraged by the product - including a former methamphetamine user who told him he was "gobsmacked" at its brazenness.
"That reaction highlights for me that the industry has crossed the line by branding a product Crack and having drug paraphernalia on it. It's just one big piss-take because they know they can get away with this."
Mr Bell said the product highlighted the need for regulation of the industry.
People posting on tripme.co.nz - a local internet forum about drugs - were among those who condemned the product, with one saying it was "outrageous" and another slamming the marketing as "reckless".
Matt Bowden, a pioneer of the legal high industry in New Zealand, said encouraging people to smoke the product was irresponsible.
"I believe they should have gone the whole way and spelled the product name with a P," he said.
"When white powders have been sold to the public in the past it has encouraged more dangerous routes of administration."
Both the Ministry of Health and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, who is drafting legislation to clamp down on legal highs, were unaware of the product before APNZ made inquiries.
Mr Dunne said its marketing came as no surprise.
"It pretty well sums up this shabby industry and irresponsible kind of people it contains. It is somewhat ironic that they will go to the trouble of using these images but will not list the ingredients of their products."
Mr Dunne said next year's law change to regulate the legal high industry could not come soon enough.
"They will have to prove their products are safe before they sell them, and no doubt this will put the vast majority of these low-life types out of business."
Crack's packaging does not list its ingredients, but gives the chemical registry number for phenethylamine - a compound which is structurally related to psychoactive drugs.
Without chemical testing, it is impossible to tell what it actually contains.
National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep said phenethylamine was a naturally occurring compound which acted as a neurotransmitter in the brain, was present in chocolate, and purported to have benefits associated with mood and weight loss.
"However, when ingested it is rapidly metabolised and rendered inactive, preventing significant concentrations in the brain."
Dr Schep said one un-cited report suggested three males ingested an unknown amount of
phenethylamine, resulting in increased heart rate, anxiety, nausea and vomiting.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said phenethylamine was not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
"However the ministry has no details on this product and we do not know what it contains. As regards packaging, the use of the image, along with a non-listing of ingredients, could be viewed as irresponsible."
Meanwhile, the New Zealander behind synthetic cannabis product Kronic, Matthew Wielenga, was arrested in Melbourne on Friday with more than 100kg of Kronic and 1kg of white powder, said to be a synthetic cocaine sold as Diablo.
He appeared in a Melbourne court on Monday, charged with trafficking a commercial quantity of synthetic cannabinoids and two counts of possessing a drug of dependence, and was bailed until March.
By Matthew Backhouse on Wed, 12 Dec 2012
- Additional reporting: Matthew Theunissen of APNZ
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.