A man rushes out of his house in Miami last month, ripping his clothes off in a rage, screaming violently, after smoking a crystal-like drug. Five police officers are required to take him down as he exhibits superhuman strength. He is sweating, paranoid, delusional and hallucinating about seeing objects in front of him.
The behavior described above, known as “excited delirium”, is the result of emerging use of a new synthetic amphetamine-like stimulant that is similar to the compound contained in bath salts, also known as cathinones.
The drug is called “Flakka”, and if you are the parent of a teen, it’s important to educate yourself about this new designer drug.
Use of the drug have been reported primarily in Florida, Texas, and Ohio, but the drug is likely making its way into many other cities.
While the synthetic stimulant contained in Flakka, alpha -PVP, was banned and labeled a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S DEA in early 2014, there was not a wide scale dissemination of this information in the lay press. Other more commonly abused bath salts of the cathinone class–such as MDPV–were more widely publicized when a federal ban was instituted in 2011. According to the DEA, Schedule 1 status signifies those substances with a high potential for abuse, lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision, along with no currently accepted use for treatment in the US.
But since underground drug suppliers realize that bans by the DEA are an ongoing practice, they always seem to be one step ahead, making new versions of previously banned drugs. And such will likely be the case with Flakka.
Flakka, which comes in crystalline rock form, can be swallowed, snorted, injected, or used in an e- cigarette and vaped. The duration of the effects of the drug can last as few as 3-4 hours, but can also linger for several days. The drug is highly addictive, both from a physical as well as a psychological perspective.
Because of the ability to place it into a cartridge and vape it, the drug can easily be concealed in public, allowing many to use it without raising any suspicions.
Flakka is produced from a compound known as alpha-PVP, synthetically derived and made from an amphetamine-like derivative of the drug, cathinone.
The khat plant, which grows in parts of the Middle East as well as Somalia, is the source of cathinones. The leaves of the plant are often chewed to achieve euphoria or a high.
While other designer drugs such as molly or ectasy, which contain MDMA, a psychedelic, have grown in popularity over the past decade, Flakka represents a new trend which could lead to greater harm to those seeking altered states of consciousness.
The reason lies behind the mechanism of the drug as a re-uptake inhibitor of dopamine and norepinephrine—important chemicals for nerve transmission—leading to a more prolonged effect, typically referred to as “excited delirium.”
Under normal functioning, the chemicals are taken back up by cells after they are released. But Flakka blocks this mechanism for reuptake, leading to a concentrated and prolonged effect of dopamine and serotonin, known as a state of “excited delirium.”
During this state, body temperature can rapidly elevate to as high as 105-106 degrees Fahrenheit, triggering a cascade of events which could also lead to kidney damage and failure as a result of rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis results from the breakdown of muscle and can release a chemical called CPK, or creatine phosphokinase, which can damage the kidneys.
The physiologic effects of Flakka trigger severe anxiety, paranoia, and delusions, leading to a psychotic state, characterized by a surge of violence associated increased strength and loss of awareness of reality and surroundings.
One of the chief concerns of Flakka is that the suppliers–typically from China, Pakistan and India– as well as users often do not know what is actually contained in the drug when it is sold on the streets. Transactions by lower level suppliers are often made online, then reaching the streets where is it repackaged in capsules or made available for vaping. Lacking purity, it may be combined or cut with anything from heroin to cocaine, or even sprinkled with cannabis.
According to the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Flakka cases are significantly increasing from no reported cases in 2010 to 85 cases in 2012, and now greater than 670 in 2014. No statistics are available on reported cases in 2015 thus far.
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, according to a report in the Sun-Sentinel, is creating a specialized task force loosely known as the “Flakka Initiative” to work with local agencies as well as the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about the increasing use of the drug.
In addition, the Sun-Sentinel reports that the Palm Beach County Substance Abuse Awareness Coalition is launching a special website next month that warns people not to be guinea pigs when it comes to these dangerous drugs. The website, dontbeaguineapig.com, will be an educational portal about the potential effects of using such designer drugs.