It’s dubbed the street version of bath salts, concocted in labs overseas and shipped into North America. The latest synthetic drug garnering attention is called flakka and it induces paranoia, psychosis and extreme aggression.
As it made its way through Florida this spring, users high on the dangerous drug have attacked authorities, ran through the streets naked claiming they’d lost their possessions, and in one case, a man even impaled himself on a spiked fence.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest controversial designer drug.
What is flakka?
Flakka is also called gravel because its crystals resemble small pebbles. The drug can be taken in different ways: injected, swallowed, smoked or snorted, for example. It can be mixed with other drugs, such as methamphetamine.
Flakka’s made from alpha-PVP, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The chemical is linked to cathinone, the drug found in bath salts. Alpha-PVP is a stimulant, so its users encounter alertness and wakefulness. It “takes the form of a white or pink, foul-smelling crystal,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse says in its advisory about the drug.
“Vaporizing, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose,” it warns.
In high doses, it induces “excited delirium” in which users’ body temperature can rise to up to 42 C, which might explain why so many users end up naked while hallucinating.
“This is bad stuff. The biggest danger is these are guinea pig drugs and the users are like lab rats,” Dr. James N. Hall, an epidemiologist and co-director of the U.S. Center for the Study and Prevention of Substance Abuse at Nova Southeastern University, told NBC News.
Some people deal with heart problems, muscle breakdown or even kidney failure. The NIH says its been linked to deaths by suicide and heart attack.
Hall says flakka’s name has Spanish origins. “Flaco” means thin, while “la flaca” in rough translation is a party term for pretty, thin girl.
It’s cheap, too. A single dose is about a tenth of a gram, Health Day reports. That only sets users back about $5.
Violent incidents linked to Flakka use
Just last week, an Orlando man on the drug attacked a police officer, insisted he was God and got Tasered twice by officials, according to one report.
He was spotted running naked through a neighbourhood and even committed a “sexual act on a tree.” When police approached him, the report says he tried to stab an officer and told authorities he was Thor.
In Fort Lauderdale, local police say a man on flakka used “nearly super human strength” to kick down a door at the police headquarters last month.
“Very forcefully pulling the doors open then actually doing a mule kick, turning his back to the door and kicking it,” Fort Lauderdale Police Det. Tracy Figone told CBS reporters in Miami.
The man’s mugshot shows a bandaged forehead, bruises and eyes that couldn’t open past slits.
“He gave the explanation that several cars were chasing him and he ran to the police department for help,” Figone explained.
In another incident, a Palm Beach resident stood from a rooftop, waving a gun. He was naked and shouting that he was hallucinating, according to the Broward Palm Beach New Times. Broward County told Health Day the drug has been tied to 10 deaths. There are as many as 20 “excited delirium” cases per day in local emergency rooms there.
It’s also in Texas and Ohio, reports suggest.
While it can be purchased online, it’s unclear if the designer drug has made its way into Canada yet. Health Canada says that cathinone is in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and therefore illegal.