Deadly drug ‘flakka’ kills dozens in Florida


As drugs go, it’s dirt cheap, po­tent and deadly. And it cre­ates sur­real, piti­ful scenes like this: a man run­ning down the street buck naked, flee­ing from imag­i­nary dogs.

This ad­dic­tive syn­thetic drug known on the streets as “flakka,” or gravel, has killed dozens of peo­ple in Florida, and its pop­u­lar­ity is spread­ing fast.

Also known as “US$5 in­san­ity” in al­lu­sion to the price of a dose — the for­mal chem­i­cal name is Al­pha-PVP — the stuff is man­u­fac­tured in China and is sim­i­lar chem­i­cally to bath salts.

Par­tic­u­larly hard hit is Broward County, a touristy area of south Florida, just north of Mi­ami.

“Broward is much like ground zero for ‘flakka’ or Al­pha-PVP,” said Heather Clark of United Way, a char­ity that is try­ing to raise aware­ness of the dan­gers of the drug.

Peo­ple gen­er­ally smoke it, but it can also be in­jected in­tra­venously or “vaped” — in­haled in va­por form.

“It truly is a very dan­ger­ous drug. It’s not recre­ational. It’s not some­thing that you can take with­out ad­verse side ef­fects,” Clark told AFP.

No one knows for cer­tain, how “flakka” got its name. But the Span­ish word “flaca” is slang for girl­friend or beau­ti­ful girl.

Deadly Down­mar­ket High

The drug can be pur­chased over the In­ter­net for US$1,500 a kilo (US$680 a pound). By way of com­par­i­son a kilo of co­caine can cost 15 times that or more.

It is sent by mail from China in small quan­ti­ties, which deal­ers then dis­trib­ute, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued this month by state author­i­ties on drug abuse in Broward County.

Chi­nese com­pa­nies also ad­ver­tise the drug openly on the In­ter­net and will mail it di­rectly to your home.

“This is a highly poi­sonous sub­stance that may have been in­ten­tion­ally de­signed for longer last­ing ef­fects, and specif­i­cally to be more ad­dic­tive, be­cause that’s good for sales,” said James Hall, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist at Nova South­east­ern Univer­sity who has stud­ied the drug mar­ket in Florida for years.

Since the drug first ap­peared on the streets of the county in Septem­ber, 34 peo­ple who took it have died. The drug has ex­isted since the 1960s but its cur­rent in­car­na­tion, as Hall said, has been tur­bopow­ered to make ad­dicts and money fast.

Hos­pi­tal emer­gency rooms deal with at least 20 cases a day, said Hall, who is work­ing with county author­i­ties to com­pile data.

Author­i­ties say many users mis­tak­enly be­lieve the drug is a mix of crack and heroin; it is nei­ther. Oth­ers think it is like co­caine, but it is dif­fer­ent and in many ways worse. Its se­ri­ous neg­a­tive ef­fects are many; and author­i­ties say us- ers of­ten are in be­hav­ioral cri­sis faster than it might take on other, costlier sub­stances.

Us­ing the drug can cause heart trou­ble, make peo­ple ag­gres­sive and para­noid, and in many cases psy­chotic.

A per­son’s body tem­per­a­ture can go up to 40.5 centi­grade or even higher.

“The vic­tims tear off their clothes, some think their body is on fire. They would run wild through the streets be­liev­ing they are be­ing chased by peo­ple or imag­i­nary wild an­i­mals seek­ing to kill them,” said Hall.

So, bizarre cases are piling up in Broward County.

To wit: one man ran through his neigh­bor­hood naked, con­vinced he was be­ing chased by a pack of Ger­man shep­herds.

In March, another man tried to kick in the door of a po­lice sta­tion in Fort Laud­erdale to es­cape what he per­ceived to be an at­tacker.

Days later, a third per­son died im­paled on the fence out­side that same po­lice sta­tion while try­ing to scale the pro­tec­tive bar­rier.

And in May po­lice in Fort Laud­erdale shot and killed a man who was high on “flakka” and hold­ing his wife against her will with a knife.

Vul­ner­a­ble Com­mu­ni­ties

How­ever, many other cases that are less spec­tac­u­lar but just as dev­as­tat­ing do not make the news.

Java Jack­son, 26, used “flakka” on May 25 and died in a mat­ter of hours in the hos­pi­tal, his aunt Rose Wa­ters said dur­ing a march last week in Fort Laud­erdale.

“This drug is so easy to get. It’s so cheap, that’s what makes it I guess ap­peal­ing to a lot of peo­ple. But it is more deadly than any­thing else that’s out there,” said Wa­ters, who is 57.

Be­cause of its low price the drug has mainly hit poor or vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple like the home­less, said Dana Swisher of the Fort Laud­erdale po­lice.

The drug has also fit into dis­tri­bu­tion lines for other sim­i­lar drugs that al­ready ex­isted in Broward County. This helps ex­plain its ready avail­abil­ity in the county.

And while the author­i­ties keep try­ing to cut off dis­tri­bu­tion routes, they warn of a cy­cle that re­peats it­self: when one de­signer drug be­gins to come un­der con­trol, another ap­pears to take its place.

“Last year it was “Molly,” now it’s called ‘flakka’ And who knows what it will be called next,” said A.D. Wright, head of the DEA of­fice in Mi­ami. Molly is a drug pop­u­lar in the club scene.

“These are only street terms, and these drugs can con­tain any­thing. The users are al­low­ing them­selves to be uti­lized as guinea pigs,” Wright said af­ter the ar­rest last week of three peo­ple on charges of selling the latest de­signer drug.


(Left) Capt. Dana Swisher with the Fort Laud­erdale Po­lice De­par­ta­ment Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions Di­vi­sion holds a crys­tal of the syn­thetic drug Flakka in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida on June 18. (Right) Peo­ple take part in a march to raise aware­ness of the syn­thetic drug Flakka in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida on June 18.


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