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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Flakka: Designer Femme Fatale

"Flakka's high is wild. It reportedly caused a man to impale himself on a police fence, another to make naked threats with a gun and another to try to kick in the door of a police department headquarters. It makes cocaine look like a stable, sensible party favor."

(Max Plenke. "It's Ridiculously Easy to Buy Flakka, the New Street Drug That's
Devastating Florida." Tech.Mic. May 27, 2015)

Flakka (also known as "gravel" and "insanity"), the synthetic drug that first spread through South Florida streets, is making its way across America. It appears to be the next big thing in the cathinone (think "bath salts") arena of drugs. The khat plant, which grows in parts of the Middle East as well as Somalia, is the source of such cathinones. Some say flakka looks like rock salt and smells like ammonia.

Unlike Ecstasy, the father of all designer party drugs, this latest batch of synthetic stimulants, like Molly and some of the others that came before it, is often made up of dangerous additives unknown to the user. Lacking purity, it may be combined or cut with anything from heroin to cocaine, or even sprinkled with cannabis. It can be taken by smoking, vaping (in an e-cigarette which adds easy concealment), ingesting or injecting.

Known chemically as Alpha-PVP, flakka, which gets its name from Spanish slang for a beautiful woman ("la flaca"), causes euphoria and Hulk-like strength, along with paranoid delusions, hallucinations and a dangerously elevated heart rate and body temperature. The "excited delirium" produced by the substance poses great harm to those seeking altered states of consciousness and a great threat to public safety. It is characterized by a surge of violence associated the increased strength and loss of awareness of reality and surroundings.

The mechanism of the drug as a re-uptake inhibitor of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are important chemicals for nerve transmission, lead to a more prolonged effect, typically referred to as the aforementioned “excited delirium.” Under normal functioning, the chemicals are taken back up by cells after they are released. But Flakka blocks this mechanism for reuptake, leading to a concentrated and prolonged effect of dopamine and serotonin.

Flakka causes body temperature to elevate as high as 105-106 degrees Fahrenheit, triggering a cascade of events which could also lead to kidney damage and failure as a result of rhabdomyolysis (a condition in which skeletal muscle is broken down, releasing muscle enzymes and electrolytes from inside the muscle cells).

Miami-Dade Police say ethylone, a synthetic cathinone closely related to flakka, is even now being produced to look like children’s candy. But, the producers of flakka almost always push a marketing strategy geared toward teens and 20-year-olds; thus, it has acquired the label of a "party drug."

Flakka suppliers are typically from China, Pakistan and India.
Most of it arrives from China, and it can be purchased through the mail. Sellers promise it will produce instant joy, exuberance and intimacy, and they assure the buyer that the substance is pure and safe as part of the sales pitch. Companies like RC-Chemical and ChemNet sell the substance freely online.

“There’s the misconception that ‘pure’ means ‘safe,' and it’s not a safe drug," warns Kimberly Walitzer, deputy director of the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.

“In fact, it’s not pure, it’s not safe and it’s certainly not fun," says Dr. Gail Burstein, health commissioner in Erie County, New York.

(Phil Fairbanks. "Flakka causing headaches for U.S. law enforcement." T
he Buffalo News. July 08, 2015)

Flakka is sold in drug marketplaces on the Dark Web, an un-Google-able part of the Internet only accessible with a special browser called an onion router. When a customer places an order, the seller confirms his encrypted details (usually his shipping name and address). If the product is in stock, it gets delivered in discreet packaging.

Plenke reports ...

"RC-Chemical, an industrial-research chemical retailer in Shenzhen City, China, sells five grams of flakka for $40. That's 80 cents for one standard dose, which is one tenth of a gram. In China, the chemicals are legal and come cheaply; many laboratories work with Alpha-PVP's ingredients. In fact, the country's laboratories have become a source for drug cartels in North and Central America."

The inexpensive drug is readily available on the streets. "It's almost synonymous with what we saw in the crack-cocaine days," reports Detective Bill Schwartz of the Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Office. "It attacks the same communities. Not necessarily (a particular) race, creed or sex, but what we're seeing is coming from the lower-income neighborhoods," he says.

(Max Plenke. "It's Ridiculously Easy to Buy Flakka, the New Street Drug That's
Devastating Florida." Tech.Mic. May 27, 2015)

Since Flakka is so new, the risks and penalties for trafficking and consumption are still soft. And, since underground drug suppliers realize that bans by the DEA are an ongoing practice, they always are one step ahead, making new versions of previously banned drugs.

Robert Gladder, M.D., reports in Forbes ...

"While the synthetic stimulant contained in Flakka, alpha -PVP, was banned and labeled a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S DEA in early 2014, there was not a wide scale dissemination of this information in the lay press. Other more commonly abused bath salts of the cathinone class–such as MDPV–were more widely publicized when a federal ban was instituted in 2011.  According to the DEA, Schedule 1 status signifies those substances with a high potential for abuse, lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision, along with no currently accepted use for treatment in the US."

(Dr. Robert Glatter. "Flakka: The New Designer Drug You Need To Know About."
Forbes. April 04, 2015)

Florida, the "epicenter" of the flakka outbreak, reported 25 flakka-related deaths in South Florida's Broward County in the past 10 months alone. Special agent Kevin Stanfill in Miami, who is leading the DEA's flakka fight, says, "We have individuals high on flakka that are coming up to parents with their kids, trying to take their kids. They're not just getting high, they're going out and hurting other people. You don't see that with a lot of the other drugs like you are with flakka right now."

Reports claim even proactive parents who give their teens urine tests after suspecting drug use are stunned. Those who make flakka are constantly changing its makeup, so as to fool common tests.

Brad Lamm, an addiction interventionist in Los Angeles, reports, "The old reliable drug test, you know at the corner store, will not show positive for this drug. They're not even able to test for it yet. It's just not included. It's ahead of the curve." Lamm says his patients on this drug are taking several weeks longer to recover than those on other bath salts, or even crystal meth.

("Designer Drug 'Flakka' Wreaking Havoc Across America. CBS News. July 14, 2015)

Flakka is cheap. A dose can go for $3 to $5, which makes it a cheap alternative to other substances like cocaine. Dealers often target young and poor people and also try to enlist homeless people to buy and sell. Of course, these people are already disadvantaged in terms of chronic disease and access to health care.

To close, the most significant warning must go out. "It's so difficult to control the exact dose (of flakka)," says Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Just a little bit of difference in how much is consumed can be the difference between getting high and dying. It's that critical." This "party drug" can lead to the last dance for unsuspecting victims.

(Carina Storrs. "What is flakka (aka gravel) and why is it more dangerous than cocaine?"
CNN. May 26, 2015)

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