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Fighting Flakka Abuse In Florida

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For some people, speaking of bath salts conjures pleasant images of a relaxing soak in the tub while aromatic minerals soothe away aches and pains. But for residents of Florida, the term evokes more of a nightmarish response.

Florida has been the unfortunate nexus of a terrible epidemic caused by a type of designer drug referred to as bath salts. In particular, the drug known on the street as flakka has been wreaking havoc in the state and elsewhere around the country.

What is Flakka?
The bath salts classification has nothing to do with things like Epsom salts and other harmless products people put in their bathtubs. Flakka is a powerful synthetic drug that causes all manner of bizarre behavior and devastating physical effects.

Flakka’s primary active ingredient is a chemical compound called alpha-PVP, which is classified as a cathinone. These man-made chemicals have been around since the 1910s, but were banned by the U.S. government in 2012 because of their dangerous potential. Alpha-PVP is on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances most likely to be abused.

On the street, flakka is commonly sold in a crystal form and is often smoked using electronic cigarettes or vaporizers. It can also be snorted, injected or mixed with food or drink and then swallowed.
Effects of Flakka
As a stimulant, flakka amplifies the body’s natural inner workings. It increases heart rate and blood pressure and affects chemicals in the brain. It causes vitals to reach off-the-chart levels and can produce seizures. With prolonged use over as little as three days, severe behavioral changes can occur.

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The drug delivers a rush of euphoria, similar to cocaine, that is quickly followed by a sickening sense of terror, restlessness, extreme agitation and delusions. This results in bizarre, incoherent and dangerous behavior.

Examples of reported drug-induced incidents include things like:

Delirium and confusion resulted in a man running naked through traffic and a woman dancing mindlessly in the pouring rain.
Paranoia caused a terrified man to kick in the door of a police station seeking refuge from supposed hordes of followers; another man impaled himself while climbing over a fence to escape imagined pursuers.
Delusions of superhuman strength or abilities resulted in a woman nearly drowning because she thought she could breathe under water; another man climbed onto a rooftop and jumped off.

The Rise and Fall of Flakka
Troubling reports of flakka abuse in Florida started showing up in late 2013. The incidents gained the spotlight of media attention by mid-2015. Statistics indicated that the drug was crashing over south Florida like a runaway tidal wave, similar to the early days of crack cocaine.

According to DEA statistics, there were 870 flakka-related criminal cases in Florida during 2015. Broward County was hit the hardest with 477 (55%) of those incidents, and Miami Dade County had 145 cases (17%).

Death tolls from the “insanity drug” were also skyrocketing. In Palm Beach County, 11 deaths were attributed to flakka during a two-year period. But in Broward County, flakka contributed to at least 33 deaths between September 2014 and July 2015.

As quickly as flakka overtook the streets, it seems to be fading just as fast. At the peak of the problem, Broward County hospitals were overwhelmed with a dozen flakka-related admissions a day. Now, they are seeing less than two. So far in 2016, there haven’t been any deaths attributed to flakka in the county.

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“To see an epidemic rise and fall in a year’s time I think is unheard of,” said Lieutenant Ozzy Tianga with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. “[It’s been] a steep and steady decline.”

Numerous factors are helping contribute to the rapid demise of the drug, including swift action by law enforcement, community activism, media exposure about the way people act on the dangerous drug and new laws in China restricting the drug’s production.

The severe epidemic is hopefully in the past. Unfortunately, with the vanishing supply of flakka, some users may be turning to heroin, which has seen an alarming increase in use and related deaths in recent weeks.

Those combatting narcotic abuses are emphasizing what lies ahead, rather than previous victories. This ensures they remain focused in their dedicated efforts to protect the public and aid those in need.

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