Healthy Living

Flakka in the News

Flakka in the News

Drugs have been around for many years, changing the conscience of people for a long time. Some drugs that are forbidden today had been legal in some period of our history, and even considered a medicine. But when scientists concluded that certain drugs do more harm than good, lawmakers made them illegal. Ever since there have been drugs available, drug dealers have been trying to mix drugs with other ingredients like sugar to make more money or even invent new kinds of drugs that will bring them more profit. Just because it is impossible to ban all chemical substances, drug dealers always find a new way of making the drug or a new one, mixing different ingredients. The problem with new drugs is that those who use them are basically guinea pigs. When a new drug appears, drug dealers usually don't know the proper dosage to cause the proper euphoria, so they need people to use them for testing dosages. These periods of trial usually result in a drug crisis, as emergency workers and police officers see large numbers of overdoses and have to investigate the drugs, makers and dealers. When the drug dealers learn how to dosage the drug, the crisis typically passes and drug users do not have the extreme reactions to it. Unfortunately, a lot of people lose their life during this dosage testing.

Ever since the crack-cocaine epidemic in this past century, there hasn’t been a tremendously major drug-related crisis, until a new drug called flakka appeared a couple of years ago. You may have heard of it because of the vicious attacks by people using this drug.

So, what is flakka?

It's a new synthetic psychostimulant drug (belonging to the “uppers” classification of drugs) that is similar to “bath salts”. It can cause extended excited delirium, and it is made from a synthetic version of a stimulant similar to amphetamine, called alpha-PVP. This stimulant is in the cathinone class which is derived from the khat plant. This plant can be found in Somalia and in the Middle East, and the drug that is made from it, flakka, is a street drug which firstly appeared in South Florida. It is highly addictive, and since there is no proper dosage, it can easily cause overdose and death. Flakka can be smoked, injected, snorted or swallowed. Drug dealers made gummy candies that are full of the flakka drug and they are colorful and look just like candy. It is believed that they did this so that it would appeal to kids, so they would start to use the drug.

What are other terms for flakka?

Flakka is also known as gravel, flocka, zombie drug or devil’s drug, because people who have seen people under influence of flakka described them as possessed by the devil. Some call it a 5-dollar drug because it is very cheap, accessible and most of the people can afford it and that is why it is causing so much chaos on the streets. Getting very high for a couple of bucks is a serious problem, and drug users are not even thinking about being testers because they just want to get high. Also, the big problem with flakka is that it is often sent by mail, usually from China where it is manufactured. It can be easily found on the internet. Some manufacturers even offer to replace your drugs for free if the police take it away. The place with the most cases and a problem that can define as the epidemic is Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as it had 60 flakka related deaths only in 2014. But the drug has spread all over the country, in big cities like Houston, Chicago, and New York.

What drugs are similar to flakka?

People have heard on the street that flakka is the combination of heroin and crack or heroin and methamphetamine, but it is actually more similar to bath salts or precisely, it is a new generation of bath salts and it causes uncontrollable behavior. It is sold in pink or white crystal pieces, which resembles the small stones in fish tanks and that is why it is usually called gravel. The fear of this drug was intensified when the story appeared that some people high on the flakka drug were acting like zombies and eating other people's faces, which led to the opinion that this drug is turning people into zombies because of cannibalism. But the connection between cannibalism and flakka is not proved yet. People are really alarmed and living in fear of people high on flakka, because they are usually under the influence of the drug so strong that it takes a couple of policemen to take them down. There was one case where it took 7 policemen to take one drug user down.

Side effects of flakka

Most of people have probably heard of the bad side effects of flakka drugs, like agitation, delirium, extreme paranoia or weird muscle movements. Those who are having extreme paranoia are a danger to themselves, because they see someone or a group of people chasing them to kill them, so they believe they are in a real danger. In this state of mind, they often do something crazy like jumping in front of a moving car, break into someone’s house or somewhere else, and one woman even jumped from a bridge because she thought she saw a group of people running to her trying to kill her, so she jumped to get away from them. Sometimes the users are so agitated and harm themselves or others, and they show what is called “excited delirium” which is so strong that it takes a couple of policeman or medical workers just to catch them and keep them down so they can help them. The reason is they are trying to free themselves. They sometimes have seizures and scream, which all can cause dehydration and increase body temperature, and that is why people who use this drug are often naked. Also, sometimes, when people take this drug, they believe that have superhuman strength, so they tend to try to do something which they obviously cannot do like stop a moving car, break down the wall etc.

As any other drugs, the flakka drug has short-term and long-term effects. Because it is a psychostimulant drug, it causes a flood of dopamine in the brain, which is addictive because it stimulates the pleasure part of the brain, just like other “uppers” like cocaine. The short-term effects are:

  • Alertness
  • Increased heart rate and intense heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Euphoria
  • Psychosis
  • Extremely aggressive and uncontrollable behavior
  • Severe hallucinations
  • Increased body temperature
  • (Sometimes) Muscle breakdown
  • Dilated pupils and sweaty palms
  • Depression and tiredness, when coming down
  • Overdose and death, when a user develops high level of the drug tolerance

Since this drug is relatively new, there are not many familiar long-term effects, but there are some familiar long-term effects like renal failure (toxic for kidneys). Still, it is unknown how the drug effects on the brain and every other organ in the body in the long term, but it probably has serious damage, considering the drugs that are similar to it. That is yet to be proven.

Treatment for flakka

The treatment includes many steps which begins with a physical and psychological evaluation of a person in order to determine proper detoxification. After the detoxification,  a person will go through behavioral therapies (psychotherapies, support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing) which must after some time include family members in order for the person to heal completely. After that, it is very important to stay sober, and centers usually offer aftercare options like visiting whenever they feel the need, periodically checking in or support groups.

Flakka in the news

The zombie drug was reported so many times in the news, and when the police receive a weird call of someone attacking other people and acting paranoid or acting like they are possessed by the devil, they might guess that flakka is guilty of that behavior. People are reported running naked through traffic, hitting cars, having sex with trees or even jumping from bridges. In West Palm Beach, a man beat an 83-year old lady to death in front of her home. The poor lady died three months after the incident, and he was accused of  first-degree murder. The court found him guilty, rejected the insanity based defense, and he is now facing a life sentence. One man tried to break into a police station because he believed that someone was chasing him in several cars, and when he didn’t manage to open the locked door, he took a rock and threw it at the door. Another man tried to break into a police station in Fort Lauderdale and he was impaled by a sharp fence but saved by firemen. A woman high on flakka thought that a group of people was chasing her to kill her, so she ran to a bridge, and because she was, at that moment thinking there is no other choice, jumped from the bridge three stories high into the water. She luckily survived this high fall.  There have been hundreds or thousands of cases, so if you see a naked man or a woman running through the city while looking paranoid, there is a high chance that he or she is on the flakka drug.