A new synthetic drug with the street name "flakka," which causes hallucinations, paranoia and violent outbursts, has taken off in Florida, where authorities are seeing a spike in criminal activity and bizarre behavior linked to the drug, reports say.
Flakka's recent casualties include a gunman yelling naked from a rooftop in Palm Beach County and a man in Fort Lauderdale impaled on a police station fence he was attempting to scale, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.
Both men told authorities they were high on flakka and hallucinating at the time of the incidents.
A successor to so-called designer drugs such as crystal meth and ecstasy, which are manufactured in illegal laboratories, flakka produces a surge of euphoria and acute sensory alertness by flooding the brain with a chemical called dopamine, experts say.
It can be smoked, inhaled, injected or laced into other drugs such as marijuana, and at $5 a hit it is considered cheap and easy to acquire in bulk from labs overseas.
The side effects and after-effects are potentially deadly, Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, Florida, told CBS News.
"We're starting to see a rash of cases of a syndrome referred to as excited delirium," said Hall. "This is where the body goes into hyperthermia, generally a temperature of 105 degrees. The individual becomes psychotic, they often rip off their clothes and run out into the street violently and have an adrenaline-like strength, and police are called and it takes four or five officers to restrain them. Then, once they are restrained, if they don't receive immediate medical attention, they can die."
Hall also dubbed flakka "a guinea pig drug" because, unlike the manufacturer, neither the user nor the down-the-line dealer knows for certain that flakka is what's being consumed — or, if it is flakka, what is the potency of the dose.
But flakka — also called "gravel" because it comes in tiny, rocklike pieces — is clearly circulating in ever greater amounts, even as episodes involving the much more infamous club drug ecstasy, or "molly," are starting to decline, say authorities.
Florida crime labs went from zero flakka cases in 2010 to 85 in 2012 and to more than 670 in 2014, the Sun Sentinel reports, citing Drug Enforcement Administration figures.
Flakka comes from the same strain of lab-made chemical that was cooked into "bath salts," a once-trendy designer drug that was banned by the federal government in 2012.
The synthetic stimulants in flakka and bath salts, known as cathinones, imitate a natural stimulant found in the chewable, buzz-inducing leaves of khat plants that grow in Africa and the Middle East.
Like crystal meth, flakka is also highly addictive.
"On a scale of one to 10, Flakka is a 12," Lt. Dan Zsido of the Pinellas County, Fla., Sheriff's Office told CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 News in St. Petersburg.