In recent years, the designer street drug Flakka has been the culprit in bizarre incidents, mainly in Broward County, South Florida, involving seemingly superhuman strength, random nudity, violent behavior, and face-eating attacks. What Flakka does to the people who use it has health and law enforcement on guard. The potent drug acts similar to other stimulants, but it is believed to be stronger, which means addiction can happen rapidly. People who are battling an addiction to Flakka and other substances might need professional help with leaving the drug alone for good once and for all.
What is Flakka?
Flakka is a potent street drug believed to have its origins in South Florida. It is derived from the synthetic cathinone, or chemical compound, called alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone, or alpha-PVP or a-PVP for short. The substance, which can come in the form of pink or white crystals, may also be referred to as “gravel” or bath salts. Other names for it include Lunar Wave, Cloud Nine, and Scarface. The crystals have been described as having a loud or foul odor, and they can be snorted, eaten, injected, or vaped.
Despite its strong association with street drug culture, it was first developed as a central nervous system stimulant and pressor agent in the 1960s, according to ResearchGate.net. The drug is also abused in Europe and Japan as well as the United States.
While the effects of Flakka mimic cocaine and methamphetamine, it is less expensive than those drugs. Flakka doses can be as inexpensive as $3 to $5. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), synthetic cathinones are cheap substitutes for stimulants such as meth and cocaine. Flakka’s cheap price attracts college students, people with low incomes, and people who are homeless.
In addition to its low cost, easy access has contributed to the drug’s widespread use. It has been sold as “bath salts” or “plant food” at small retail stores, gas stations, vape shops, and even online. The bath salts label is highly misleading, but labeling the substance “not for human consumption” helps manufacturers make sure authorities will face obstacles in trying to track down.
Users also can log on and order it online from China-based manufacturers who can conveniently deliver the drug to users’ doorstep. The drug is also reportedly made in laboratories in India and Pakistan. According to a Sun-Sentinel report, drug importers have bought Flakka in bulk from Chinese laboratories for $1,500, which is reportedly enough to make 10,000 doses.
Flakka Users May Exhibit Signs of:
- Increased body temperature
- Violent behavior
- Extreme agitation
- Jerking muscle movements
- Delirious thoughts
Some sources have referred to Flakka as the newer-generation version of bath salts, which is a drug cocktail containing a mix of harmful substances. What’s in these mixes is anyone’s guess. Some combinations could contain the anesthetic dissociative ketamine, benzodiazepines, which are powerful sedatives, and other addictive substances. Because of their diverse makeup, it is difficult to know exactly what the effects on the brain are. Users who take Flakka are risking their health and their lives when they use it.
Flakka is highly addictive. It does not take much to become hooked on this drug, and one dose is enough to cause an overdose that can kill the person. Much like other drugs, Flakka floods the brain with dopamine and norepinephrine, both being feel-good chemicals. Prolonged, regular, or heavy use of Flakka can change the way the brain responds and makes users want to seek out more just to satisfy the strong cravings. This is known as addiction.
What are the Signs of Flakka Addiction?
Chronic Flakka use can lead to addiction. That’s because frequent use can cause users to become more tolerant to the drug’s effects, which, in turn, leads them to use more of it to achieve the high they are seeking. Continuing to use Flakka despite the negative consequences that follow, such as losing a job or feeling sick after each use, is one sure sign that a person is in active Flakka addiction.
Other Signs and Symptoms of Flakka Addiction Include:
Constantly thinking about Flakka
Spending large amounts of money to buy Flakka
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Taking the drug just to avoid withdrawal symptoms
Inability to function without the drug
Inability to stop using the drug
How Dangerous is Flakka?
This drug is highly dangerous. At small doses, Flakka acts as a stimulant with mild hallucinatory effects. Some users may even feel euphoria and become animated. They may feel more alert and focused and have an increased sex drive. At higher doses; however, the drug can mimic the stimulant drugs cocaine and methamphetamine and cause delusions, muscle cramps, twitching, and seizures.
James Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Florida told Live Science, a typical dose is 0.003 ounces or 0.1 grams. However, not much more is needed to trigger adverse effects that could prove severe. “Even a mild overdose can cause heart-related problems, or agitation, or severe aggression and psychosis,” Hall said.
Another reason Flakka is dangerous is that its addictive nature may prompt users to follow up the first dose with a second one and that can easily lead to overdose. Vaping Flakka, a popular method of use for this drug, is the fastest way to feel the drug’s effects as it ensures they hit the bloodstream quickly. Going this route; however, can put users at risk of taking in too much. Flakka overdoses can make the body overheat, which commonly happens among Flakka users.
The substance can dangerously raise one’s body temperature and cause kidney damage and failure. According to Live Science’s report, some users have reported that their body temperature reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In this state, some users removed their clothes and acted out violently and became delusional.
Some Flakka users also have been violently aggressive and injured themselves. Others exhibited such strength that it took several law enforcement officers to restrain them in situations where police were called. In those extreme cases, Hall explained to Live Science that first responders will give the person a sedative to calm them down. If they don’t, the person under the influence of Flakka can die. Some have committed suicide or had heart attacks. The long-term effects of Flakka use are still being studied.
In early 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration banned the drug temporarily along with nine other synthetic cathinones. Data show that 63 users died in South Florida between September 2014 and December 2015. In late 2015, the Chinese government reportedly banned the production of Flakka as well as more than 100 other synthetic drugs, which is believed to have made a dent in exports of the drug to the United States. China is believed to have been the largest exporter of the drug. Vice reported in 2016 that the government agency wanted to ban it permanently.
A 2015 study published in Psychopharmacology that year asserted that Flakka could be as addictive as MDP, the chemical found in bath salts, which is MDPV. In 2016, virtually no Flakka-related deaths or emergency room visits involving Flakka abuse were recorded in Broward County, which hinted at a decline. While it appears that Flakka’s popularity has faded in South Florida for now, authorities are still concerned that synthetic cathinones that were found in Flakka can turn up in other street drugs such as MDMA or Molly (also known as ecstasy).
How Treatment Can Help Addicted Flakka Users
People who have been addicted to Flakka can find recovery support at a licensed drug rehabilitation facility.
Once they have been admitted, they typically start the process with a medical detoxification. This is done to rid the body of the drug and other toxins. This procedure helps the client regain physical and mental stability. A detox can last anywhere from three to 10 days or longer if needed.
During this time, health care professionals monitor clients around-the-clock as they are weaned off the drug safely. This may include tapering off Flakka, which is when doses are gradually reduced over a set period to allow the body time to adjust to not having the drug in its system. Additional blood tests may be done to see if additional medications are needed to treat other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes among others.
After a medical detox is completed, clients usually are evaluated before they enter a treatment program. An assessment helps ensure you or your loved one receives the proper diagnosis and treatment program that can best address the needs at hand. You may be asked standard questions about your Flakka use and use of any other addictive substances. The assessment also helps determine whether a mental health disorder is present along with a substance use disorder (SUD). Having both is common.
Addicted Flakka users who use drugs or alcohol also may exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or other mental health disorders. When both kinds of disorders are present, this is known as having a co-occurring disorder or dual-diagnosis. This is common among people who abuse drugs and alcohol. The more severe a person’s mental illness is, the more likely the person will abuse substances. Illegal ones that are commonly abused include alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
After clients enter the proper drug addiction treatment program, they will address the physical and psychological addiction. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. Inpatient treatment or residential treatment, which can last from 28-90 days in a facility, depending on the program, involves various therapies that can help the person overcome their addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, at least 90 days (three months) or more are needed to treat drug addiction. A longer stay gives clients a chance to develop the life skills and strategies they need to live without using drugs.
Behavior therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, can be beneficial. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps increase clients’ awareness of distorted thinking and maladaptive behavior patterns and teaches them coping strategies that can support them during the recovery process.
Treatment also can incorporate 12-step programs, holistic therapy, family therapy, and individual and group counseling.
There is also outpatient treatment for people who may be in the early stages of stimulant addiction or have a mild case of it. Outpatient therapy does not require an on-site stay at a treatment center. This allows clients more flexibility as they work drug treatment into their schedules. However, outpatient clients are still required to attend structured sessions three to five times a week or more, depending on the situation.
Recovering Flakka users may want to consider using aftercare services to help them focus on their recovery goals and reduce their chances of relapse, a very real possibility for people in recovery. A relapse means a return to using drugs and alcohol after a period of abstinence. According to NIDA, relapse happens to at least 40 percent to 60 percent of people in recovery.
A person may have to attend drug and/or alcohol rehab more than once or twice during their journey toward full-time sobriety. This does not mean treatment has failed, the agency says. Instead, it means that treatment needs to be reinstated, adjusted, or that another form of treatment is needed to help the person return to recovery. Some people pursue follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, that can happen long after dependence on the drug has passed. PAWS include anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, irritability, and other conditions.
Flakka Abuse Statistics
- 0.80 percent: Percentage of U.S. teens who used bath salts in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey
- 55 percent: In 2014, Broward County, Florida, accounted for more than half of the state’s 870 Flakka cases that year.
- 6 percent: In 2011 alone, about two-thirds of the 22,904 reports of bath salts use during emergency room visits involved bath salts that were used in combination with other drugs.