Flakka: The New Bath Salts, Only Worse

A new designer drug has hit the streets: It’s called Flakka, also known as “gravel” and “$5 insanity.” It causes users to hallucinate and become psychotic and extremely violent. Recent incidents in Florida, Texas and Ohio include a Fort Lauderdale man under the influence of Flakka who impaled himself on a metal fence. Side effects and aftereffects of the drug are also potentially deadly.

The mind-altering synthetic drug is produced by the same chemicals used to make bath salts, a drug banned in 2012 by the federal government. The stimulant used in Flakka, alpha-PVP, was banned and labeled a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014, which means it is a substance with a high potential for abuse and it lacks the ability to be used safely even under medical supervision or for the treatment of a medical condition.

How Do People on Flakka Act?

Robert Glatter, MD, attending physician in the department of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City, describes the main effect of Flakka as “excited delirium. It’s especially dangerous because it can be swallowed, injected, snorted or even ‘vaped’ — used in an e-cigarette. A person can use it in public and take it, unbeknownst to anyone.” Effects of the drug can last for two to three days.

Flakka: The New Bath Salts, Only WorseMade in India, Pakistan and China, Flakka is typically sold to low-level drug suppliers who can cut it with heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, explains Dr. Glatter. “So you get a mixture of a drug that’s often not pure. Suppliers are always looking for ways to reinvent and resynthesize the drug.”

This newest designer drug acts both as a stimulant — like cocaine and crystal methamphetamine — and as a hallucinogen, so similar to bath salts and mushrooms, says Josh White, executive director of Red Mountain Recovery, a treatment facility in Sedona, Arizona.  “Most drugs are more of a stimulant or a hallucinogen, but Flakka has both properties,” says White. “This makes it even more dangerous, because someone who is hallucinating while on a stimulant will often behave in very erratic and risky [ways].”

Where is Flakka Coming From?

To top it off, so far it’s been very hard to trace the drug’s origins. “Authorities don’t know who’s making it, so it’s impossible to test for purity or see if it’s tainted with other drugs,” notes White. “There’s also no way to test for it, so someone could be on it but no one would know.” So far the drug has been found primarily in Florida, Texas and Ohio, but that doesn’t mean that parents and teachers especially shouldn’t be on the look-out for it, stresses Glatter. Flakka, he says, can cause physical as well as psychological harm, and “it’s likely to become more widely distributed and needs to be on everyone’s radar.”

The best way to know if your kids are using or thinking about using Flakka is by spending time with them and keeping your antennae up, says White: “Know their moods, know who their friends are, know what’s happening in their lives. Keep an eye out for erratic behavior,” he suggests. “If what they say or how they act makes no sense, they may very well be on one of these new, untraceable drugs and may need medical care before they hurt themselves or someone else.”

Photo of bath salts courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Administration

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