DANGEROUS DRUGS ON DUNEDIN'S STREETS Police urge party pill ban Alarming side effects from legal party pills landed five young people in Dunedin Hospital at the weekend, leaving police and health officials concerned at the apparent increasing popularity and accessibility of the substances. The pills, named Charge, Rapture, Blast, Exodus and Frenzy, contain benzylpiperazine (BZP) and trifluromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP). It is illegal to possess these chemicals, or any pills which contain the chemicals, in the United States and some parts of Australia. However, the chemicals are not restricted in New Zealand and the pills, which are claimed to have a similar effect on users as ecstasy or P, are readily available at outlets in Dunedin, including bars, clothing stores, music shops and retailers servicing street culture. The pills, which are labelled as dietary supplements, cost $40 for six tablets of Charge when purchased by an Otago Daily Times staff member this week from Cosmic.Three Rapture tablets were supplied free as part of the transaction. The labels state the party pills are a legal alternative to amphetamines and ecstasy and promise to make the user feel "alive, energised and able to dance the night away". While inquiries reveal such "energy pills" have been available for about two years, last weekend's incidents appear to be the first in which the hospital and police have been involved. Sergeant Kelvin Lloyd, of Dunedin, said police were contacted by hospital staff this week, concerned at the number of patients suffering from side effects, which included heart palpitations and an increase in blood pressure and body temperature. In extreme cases, the piperazines produced hallucinations, convulsions and respiratory depression. "This is news for us and we have spent the past couple of days researching the drug and its effects," Sgt Lloyd said. "What we have found out is that it does appear to be legal in New Zealand and seems readily available." This was a concern, he said. The Poison Centre in Dunedin confirmed yesterday it had received several calls from Otago medical practitioners in the past two weeks wanting more information on the pills, after having patients suffering from the side effects. Dunedin Hospital emergency department consultant Dr Alan Forrester said, like any drug, if not taken correctly or in incorrect quantities, the party pills could prove fatal. "The symptoms presented to us at the weekend were agitation, feeling like their heart was racing, sweatiness and anxiety. "In one case, concerns were such that the person was admitted." Hospital staff had been briefed this week about the pills and their side effects in case last weekend was a "sign of things to come". "It's obviously becoming more popular and some places are even advertising it so I wouldn't be surprised if this is not a one-off for us," Dr Forrester said. It is understood the five people treated at Dunedin Hospital at the weekend were all students and had taken either Charge or Rapture 12-18 hours earlier. They had overdosed on the pill and, while four of the people to seek help were treated and discharged within hours, one male was admitted and kept in overnight. Sgt Lloyd said he had referred the information to his superiors. "In situations like this, we have to take our lead from other countries. We have a substance which has been classified in America because of its effects on people and it has now led to five people needing hospital attention in one weekend here. "While I can't do this myself - it will have to come from higher up - I would suggest legislative action may be necessary." The head of the United States Department of Justice drug enforcement administration, based in Washington DC, yesterday said, when approached, that BZP and TFMPP became "substances of concern" in 2000. By September 2002, they were put under the Controlled Substances Act and anyone found with the drug faced the same penalties as those found with ecstasy. The New Zealand Customs Department tabled a paper on piperazines at a Ministry of Health committee meeting in June last year. It had noticed an increase in importations of the substances and asked for more information from other agencies regarding the need to control them.