At one point in my life I took pride in my vast knowledge of the underground drug sub-culture of South Florida.
I knew the lingo, the spots, the etiquette. Yet, I left that lifestyle behind quite some time ago and have since come across countless news stories regarding newly developed drugs that I’d never before experienced, such as spice and bath salts.
Recently, I began to hear of this mysterious drug known as flakka and I found myself wondering, “wtf is flakka?”
So, What is Flakka?
Well, as is turns out flakka is the street name for the drug alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), also known as gravel, which is a synthetic cathinone closely related to bath salts.
Interestingly enough, this “designer drug” is not really new at all. It was first developed in the 1960’s as a manufactured compound of a chemical found in the khat plant, originally found in Ethiopia. The World Health Organization has been discussing as well as conducting research on the effects produced by this plant well back into the early 1930’s.
A meta analysis of these studies spanning 69 years concluded that the consumption of the khat plant caused short term effects of:
- increased alertness
- blurred vision
- cerebral hemorrhages
- psychosis at high doses
As the participant came down off the drug, irritability and depression are comm side effects.
Long term effects included:
- cardiovascular disorders
- gastrointestinal disorders
- sexual dysfunction
Flakka – The Synthetic Version of the Khat Plant
The frightening thing is that these are merely the effects produced by the leaves of the khat plant itself. Very little research has been done on the effects of the synthetic cathinone produced to mimic the khat plant, what we know as flakka.
What we do know is that at a neurological level when consumed, flakka increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. It does this by blocking the neurons that absorb both neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, because the drug remains capped on the neurons for such an extended period of time, the possibility of neuronal damage is relatively high. This drug can be administered orally, smoked, snorted, injected or vaporized and comes in a crystalline form.
What Does Flakka Do?
The effects of ingesting flakka have been reported to being similar to those of a combination of methamphetamine and cocaine. Higher doses have been found to cause psychosis, seizures, and a condition called “excited delirium,” which often leads to severe aggression and self-injury.
Flakka can also cause an individual to enter a state of hyperthermia and raise to a deadly body temperature of around 105, generally requiring immediate medical attention.
Another harrowing effect produced by flakka that could lead to kidney failure and the need for life-long dialysis treatment is rhabdomyolysis. This is the melting of muscle tissue that is then released into the blood stream.
Why Take the Risk?
Because of it’s synthetic nature and relative unfamiliarity in society, the infiltration of flakka into the drug sub-culture has presented a number of benefits to drug users and dealers alike.
Largely produced in China and marketed as products “not for human consumption,” flakka is most often labeled as items such as plant food or some sort of household cleaner making the sale of them entirely legal. Additionally, flakka is not a substance that was originally screened for in routine drug tests for legal proceedings, treatment centers, and halfway houses. This allows for drug users to obtain that amphetamine-like high they sought after without getting busted for using by those detestable UA’s.
Fortunately there is now a drug test available for alpha-PVP, which some facilities are beginning to utilize. Jessica Wood, Director of Operations for a Women’s halfway house in Delray Beach stated that “it doesn’t appear on a standardized drug screening panel and needs to be specifically requested.” Moreover, she indicated that “only certain labs offer testing for flakka making it somewhat difficult to screen for.”
Flakka is Taking Over Florida
This is good news for Florida.
Earlier this year in March, in Fort Lauderdale a man was arrested trying to break into a police station with what was reported to be “superhuman strength.” Upon further investigation, it was discovered that he was high on flakka and believed that all the cars on the street were out to get him and he was seeking refuge.
A few weeks later, again in Fort Lauderdale, another man high on flakka was impaled through the thigh at a police station. One female was reported to have been running through the streets of Melbourne claiming to be Satan while on flakka. Then there was that naked guy who thought he was Thor. CBS News reported 126 flakka related deaths in Florida in 2013. According to the Sun Sentinel, in Broward County alone, there have been at least 29 deaths since September that can be linked to the use of flakka. Broward Medical Center professionals have reported that they are now treating at least 50 patients a week for complications resulting from flakka use. Law enforcement officials have stated that flakka is the worst drug they have ever encountered.
A Solution to the Flakka Epidemic
Due to the degree to which flakka has infiltrated South Florida, The United Way of Broward County has formed the “Flakka Action Team.” If you are interested in getting involved here is a link to their 2015 Community Flakka Action Plan. They will be holding their next meeting on December 17th at 9 a.m. at the Executive Airport Business Center. I completely understand that running through the streets under the impression that you are some mythical God so far more exciting, but helping aid your community become safer for yourself and loved ones will be more rewarding in the long run. There are resources readily available to those who are in need of them.