A "New" Drug Called Flakka Hits Town. It's Time to Panic Again, Drug Enforcers Say.

Some bath salts. Not to be ingested, you crazy kids.EXPAND
Some bath salts. Not to be ingested, you crazy kids.
Drug Enforcement Administration

It's one of the essential tenets of making local news: If you hear about a drug that you hadn't previously, you need to freak out about it.

Monday night, WFAA led its 5 p.m. newscast with a story that purports to be about flakka, a synthetic drug. There is very little information in the story, or the accompanying web article.

It's the new synthetic drug of choice that is sweeping the country. It's called "flakka," and it is dangerous.

"It creates a potential for violent episodes, hallucinations and very violent behavior," explained Paul Knierim, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"Flakka" means "skinny girl" in Spanish. People hooked on it lose weight fast... but also lose their minds.

Anika Cooper is a former drug addict who runs a sober living house called Simply Grace. She has seen women hooked on the drug.

"Sometimes it causes psychosis. It is the most dangerous thing," she said. "They can lose their mind by doing synthetic drugs just one time."

Flakka makes users feel paranoid, violent, and offers an adrenaline rush.

Law enforcement agencies are alarmed that users have no idea what chemicals are being used to make flakka.

"There have been cases of flakka that were found to have heroin, meth or cocaine, so you're never sure what substance you are buying," Knierim said.

"Actually, addicts don't care what they put into their bodies," Cooper said. "Dangerous to them is irrelevant... they just want to change the way they feel."

Drug counselors say they have seen people die from using synthetic drugs like flakka that can trigger seizures.

"Addiction, if left untreated, can — and often does — end in death," warned Marc Turner of Greenhouse Treatment Center.

Law enforcement says it is difficult to track flakka and other synthetic drugs. They fear this is just the beginning of what is yet to come in North Texas.

Here's a little background on flakka, before we address the claims made in WFAA's piece. Flakka is one of the names of alpha-PVP, a synthetic version of cathinone. Cathinone, a stimulant, is derived from the khat shrub commonly found on the Arabian Peninsula. It's part of the same class of drugs as those that are usually called bath salts. Alpha-PVP is also sometimes referred to as gravel. To date, flakka's been most prevalent in Florida.

Now, getting to the claims:

1. "It's the new synthetic drug of choice that is sweeping the country."
Alpha-PVP is not new. It was first synthesized in the 1960s and became widely used after mephedrone, MDPV and methylone — previously popular synthetic drugs — were made illegal in 2011. Alpha-PVP was temporarily declared a Schedule 1 substance in March at the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Alpha-PVP, as gravel, popped up on local news stations as early as the fall of 2013. Here are two stories from WKPT in Tennessee:

2. "It creates a potential for violent episodes, hallucinations and very violent behavior," explained Paul Knierim, assistant special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

3. "Sometimes it causes psychosis. It is the most dangerous thing," she said. "They can lose their mind by doing synthetic drugs just one time."

4. "Flakka makes users feel paranoid, violent and offers an adrenaline rush."
"I think that the experience, like with any drug, is dose and frequency dependent. If you're taking whatever the common recreational dose is, and you're doing it once, I think you'll have an experience very much in line with what you would on an amphetamine or something else in the cathinone class," says Stefanie Jones, the nightlife community engagement manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now, if you're taking a lot of it, and you're increasing your dose ... and you're doing it day after day after day, then you're going to see some of the more psychotic type behavior. That's exactly what happens with other more well known cathinones and with amphetamines."

You can check out an alpha-PVP trip report from way back in 2012 on Erowid, a moderated web community that allows users to catalog and document drug experiences. The upshot on Erowid: Lots of energy. Fast heart rate. Easy to take too much. Some people like it. Some don't.

5. Law enforcement agencies are alarmed that users have no idea what chemicals are being used to make flakka.

"There have been cases of flakka that were found to have heroin, meth or cocaine, so you're never sure what substance you are buying," Knierim said.
By definition, flakka is alpha-PVP-based. If you're getting flakka that contains heroin, meth or cocaine, you aren't getting flakka. You've just got a deceptive dealer.

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"[Claiming that] there's heroin in it says to me that somebody selling the substance is grabbing on to a marketing term. They're putting together whatever they have and just trying to sell something and turn a profit," Jones says. "That's another thing that people who use drugs, especially in vulnerable communities have to deal with. They don't have access to knowing what exactly they're buying. Somebody maybe saw a story, and they're like, 'Oh, flakka, it makes you crazy.' In certain circles, that's appealing to people. You might have somebody with a substance that could be anything and they're now going to call it flakka."

The real story, Jones says, is the way flakka affects those who can least afford to be affected.

"In Florida, Ohio and Tennessee, where it's already been seen, it's mostly poor people, it's really vulnerable communities where you're seeing people come across this substance and use this substance," she says. "I think that's what's driving the panic. It's easily obscured behind a drug rather than us acknowledging that these are people who just have tough lives. They need better access to services and treatment. A drug like this can have a big, negative impact on a community like that."


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