Flakka: The New Deadly Designer Drug on the Block

It seems like every year there is a new designer drug threatening the lives and health of our children. The past few years have seen the widespread embrace by teenagers, adolescents and young adults of drugs molly[1]bath salts[2]spice[3] and krokodil[4]. The effects of these drugs have ranged from mild, to alarming, to downright tragic and frightening, yet the will to try something new is as strong as ever among potential users. The newest designer recreation drug to infiltrate the United States is called flakka, a new synthetic amphetamine-like substance which causes a variety of physical and psychological damage.

Origins of Flakka in the United States

Also known as gravel, flakka usually comes in white crystalline, gravel-like form and can either be smoked, snorted or injected. This drug first started raising red flags in South Florida, not too far from where Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches treats our patients. In 2014, Florida health and law enforcement officials documented 670 cases of flakka-induced criminal behavior[5], and the drug has been dubbed “$5 insanity” due to the dangerous levels of psychosis it has the potential to create. Specific incidents have involved a naked gun-man leading police on a foot chase through a crowded Florida highway[6], a man who tried to kick in the glass door of the Fort Lauderdale Police Station and a man who impaled himself when trying to jump that same station’s security fence[7].

Excited Delirium

Like its predecessor bath salts, flakka has been known to elicit paranoid delusional psychosis in users. One common effect which officials in South Florida often refer to as “excited delirium” is the elevation of body temperature to 105 degrees[8], during which users develop an adrenaline-like sort of alien strength and become very violent. Many of these incidents have required the involvement of multiple police officers to subdue affected users. In these dangerous situations, it can be extremely difficult to restrain users enough to get them the help they need for their severely compromised physical condition. It’s imperative that the body temperature gets back down to normal level, otherwise the user can easily die.

Westward Expansion

Flakka is quickly making its way through the United States in states like Texas and Ohio and has recently ended up in Chicago where it is being sold for between $3 and $5 per hit. Since its arrival onto the US landscape, the drug has been linked to nearly a dozen fatalities[9]. Users often report no recollection of their flakka-induced behavior after their high has worn off. Once incident in Chicago involved a 24-year-old man unknowingly taking the drug and, in a state of psychosis, ending up running through his neighborhood naked. When the police caught him, he had no memory of the incident or any events before his third day in jail. Many experts say that the drug can leave patients addicted after just one or two cycles of use.

Many experts say that the drug can leave patients addicted after just one or two cycles of use.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous elements of flakka is that you never really know what you’re taking when you take it. Like other unregulated drugs such as molly and bath salts, the contents of each batch are left largely to the discretion of the creator. This means that users are literally taking their lives into their hands every time they choose to partake in flakka. There are times when, frankly, the dealer won’t even know what they’re selling. These drugs are usually cooked up in crude makeshift “labs” by people who have no idea what they’re doing and how deadly these substances are.

What’s the Attraction?

Flakka is said to elicit feelings of great euphoria in users. Rather than focus on the immediate effects of the drug in question, however, perhaps it’s time to look at what draws people to these drugs in the first place. While it’s clear that enough education exists out there to let potential users know about the dangers of these drugs, the fact is that humans will always be two things: curious and opportunistic. Dealers see an opportunity to make money and users see and opportunity to experience something truly unique. Many of them wind up paying a higher price than they could ever imagine.

Staying Ahead: Prevention + Treatment

It’s often said that enforcement and punishment needs to be balanced with treatment and compassion. However, in an effort to ensure that these new and incredibly dangerous drugs don’t find their way onto our streets and into our neighborhoods, law enforcement must be vigilant in their prevention efforts. It’s also critical that the addiction treatment community redouble its efforts to understand the physiological effects of these drugs as well as their broad chemical makeup. The sad fact is that for many facilities, these drugs are being manufactured and distributed faster than clinical professionals can keep up with how to treat their use.

Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches offers comprehensive treatment for all types of chemical dependency and our research department is constantly staying ahead of the curve regarding the emergence of new and dangerous “flavor-of-the-month” designer drugs. Our full spectrum of care includes medical detox, individualized rehab and comprehensive aftercare.

For individuals that have found themselves dependent on these dangerous and unpredictable substances, it becomes a question not of if but when they’re going to die. As many times as we have heard it from our parents, our teachers and everyone else, one bad choice at a party can very quickly lead to a life-altering event. None of us know which new designer drug lurks around the corner; however it is not likely to be any less dangerous than flakka.