Flakka, an increasingly popular drug called alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PDP), is surging in Florida and is also being reported in other parts of the U.S., including Ohio, Texas and Tennessee.
Bizarre public behavior has been linked to the illegal, controlled drug, which has been a growing problem for police after bursting on the scene in 2013. In Broward County, 32 flakka-related deaths were recorded in the nine months between September 2014 and June 2015. Of those deaths, half occurred in the last five weeks.
Also known as gravel, flakka in crystal form is widely advertised for sale online by Chinese companies and can be shipped in large quantities to U.S. addresses by established global delivery companies. Once it hits the streets, a single dose can sell for as little as $5. Its effects can last from three hours to three days.
The designer drug, being used in e-cigarettes once peddled as a safer alternative to tobacco smoking, is made from the chemical alpha-PVP, a synthetic version of cathinone, a dangerous stimulant as strong as the most potent varieties of crystal meth, cocaine or MDMA. It can also be snorted, injected or swallowed at about $150 for an eighth of an ounce, compared with $450 for an eight-ball of crystal meth.
One challenge is that flakka manufacturers make subtle changes to its chemical makeup, foiling efforts to test for the drug. It is frequently mixed with other substances, such as crack cocaine or heroin, with unknown effects.
Experts say flakka, like bath salts, can give users a feeling of superhuman strength and can result in psychotic behavior. It gives them heightened awareness, causing them to feel stronger and more sensitive to touch. Then it causes paranoia, psychosis, extreme combativeness, severe hallucinations, anxiety and rapid heartbeat. With prolonged use over as little as three days, behavioral changes can be severe.