Flakka: The new synthetic scourge


Alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone. Too much of a mouthful? What about flakka?

This is the new designer drug to hit the streets and it apparently packs quite a punch — to the point of driving users insane. Flakka or “gravel” — so-called because of its grainy appearance — blows through the user’s brain like a Category 5 hurricane. Although the high begins euphoric, a user can suddenly plunge into deep paranoia or suffer hallucinations or hyperstimulation. Other side effects are delusions and a marked increase in physical strength — which can also lead to potentially fatal risks.

What’s most troubling to health officials is flakka can raise the body’s temperature to 105 degrees. Users often strip naked because of the rise in body temperature. According to Alfred Aleguas, Doctor of Pharmacy, with the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, “People have had extremely high blood pressures, extremely high temperatures and that’s what kills people. They’re showing up with strokes and ending up with permanent damage.” He adds, “You really are playing with a loaded gun. It’s Russian roulette. You really have no idea what you’re getting.”

Excited delirium

Flakka is derived from the Khat plant grown in the Middle East and Somalia. It belongs to the family of drugs known as synthetic cathinones. These chemicals, also called bath salts, can create a condition in the user known as “excited delirium.” This condition causes the user to become hyper-aggressive. In 2012, Miami police shot and killed a man after he chewed off another man’s face. An autopsy revealed that the man was under the influence of bath salts at the time.

Flakka blocks the body’s ability to recycle dopamine and norepinephrine — basically hoarding these chemicals in the brain that produce euphoria and a sense of well being. The longer they stay in the user’s system, the longer the user experiences an altered state of consciousness.

A man high on flakka was caught on video trying to break into a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida police station. Another man, also in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, impaled himself on a fence after taking the drug.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence — NCADD — hospitals in South Florida are admitting up to 20 patients a day due to flakka abuse. Because the drug can radically increase a user’s blood pressure, many patients are in or near renal failure when they arrive at the hospital.

Cheap, fast and out of control

Flakka’s low cost and availability — it was only classified as a controlled substance in 2014 — has made it the drug of choice among teenagers. According to one user, “The people that normally smoke crack don’t want crack. This is the new crack; this is what’s going to stop crack.”

The use of vaping and e-cigarettes is on the rise among teenagers. Coincidentally, vaping is proving to be the most popular delivery system for ingesting flakka. Vaping introduces the drug into the bloodstream more rapidly than ingesting it or injecting it. Users can also easily conceal the vials used to hold the drug. Coupled with the generally innocuous uses for vaping, flakka users can hide in plain sight when ingesting the drug.

Since the drug is new on the market, reliable statistics on teenage abuse are scant. However, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency DEA, incidents involving flakka with respect to the general public are on the rise. In 2010, there were no reported cases; in 2012, 85. In 2014, the numbers of cases jumped to 670. Assuming that teenage drug use runs roughly parallel to that of the general public, it is not surprising health officials and law enforcement express grave concerns about this alarming trend.

White River Academy is a residential boarding school located at the edge of the majestic Great Basin in Delta, Utah. White River focuses on treating young men with addiction and mental health disorders. If your teen seems to be succumbing to this or another addiction or untreated mental health disorder, we offer a holistic approach of therapies and curriculum to rehabilitate and rear your troubled teen into a healthy man.

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