|Flakka, AKA the "zombie drug" is a dangerous new designer drug that|
Dr. Nabil El Sanadi likens to bioterrorism.
There’s a new designer drug in town in Broward County, Florida. Its called flakka, and it is rapidly reaching epidemic levels of usage in the Fort Lauderdale area. If you’ve never heard of flakka, think of it as a cousin to bath salts—one that teens are vaping directly into the bloodstream to get high.
“It’s worse than Ebola—this is bioterrorism,” noted Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, CEO of the North Broward Hospital District. El Sanadi has seen the effects of flakka first-hand: it’s so powerful, it can numb someone to the pain of a shoulder popping out of its socket.
The mind-altering substance has also been appearing in other parts of the country, such as Ohio and Texas. But flakka, also called “gravel,” has been a nuisance specifically in Broward County, where law enforcement and healthcare facilities are seeing about 20 cases a day related to it.
Your body on flakka
When on flakka, your body experiences an excited delirium that involves hyperstimuation, hallucinations, paranoia, aggressive behavior, and even self-injury in some instances.
But what’s especially dangerous about flakka is that its most dangerous form of consumption, vaping, is also the most popular form of consumption among teens. Vaping flakka is particularly popular because it doesn’t give off an odor, making its usage difficult to detect. When vaping flakka, the drug can go directly into one’s bloodstream, making it incredibly easy to overdose, according to NIDA.
Even without an overdose, some sources report that the symptoms of use can persist for up to 30 days. There is no quick way to detox users, the only real option being heavy sedation and waiting for the drug to exit their system. Videos posted online have some comparing users to mindless zombies, frequently involving harm of themselves or others. Members of communities where flakka is running rampant say that they've even observed erratic behavior continuing for up to four to six months after use.
Flakka on the rise
Flakka appears to have first surfaced on the streets in 2013, when Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement crime labs only received 38 submissions for testing the drug. However, that number grew to almost 200 in 2014 and from there, to 275 in just the first three months of 2015.
How has flakka been able to spread so quickly? The key appears to be the compound from which it is made, called alpha-PVP. This chemical is a cousin of cathinone, the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the active ingredient in bath salts was officially banned in 2011, alpha-PVP was not. Therefore, it is legal in any state without its own ban.
Until a ban on alpha-PVP is put into place, it doesn’t appear that this situation will improve.