27 Aug What is the Flakka Drug and How is it Affecting Georgia
Flakka is a dangerous new street drug in Georgia that, in recent years, has grown in popularity and garnered quite a bit of news coverage due to the oftentimes bizarre behavior and criminal reports about those under the influence of the synthetic drug. In the early 2000’s, the earliest reports of the dangers of Flakka use came from Florida. There, both law enforcement and the media were stunned by the disturbing actions of flakka users; one man, naked and crazed, murdered another man and then ate his face; another man tried to break into a maximum security jail to see a friend, he was found by jail security, atop the prison wall, enwrapped in barbed wire, covered in blood, screaming incoherently; and there are still other stories of self-mutilation, imperviousness to pain, and an inability to be restrained without the help of multiple people.
These stories over time morphed into tales of Flakka being a drug that could turn you into a zombie or give you superhuman strength; one dose and you will morph into a rabid animal. While this drug is alarming and dangerous, this type of sensationalism or salacious reporting is not scientific, nor is it helpful. The reports of Flakka being a “zombie drug” are false sensationalism. In fact, the vast majority of the crazier cases we see that are reported by the media are of people who binged on the drug until they reached the point of dopamine psychosis. Accuracy, alas, does not garner the same ratings as extraordinary stories and fear mongering. Sadly, such falsehoods tend to make people, especially young people, more curious about trying the drug, only increasing their desire to test it for themselves. Because of that, it is essential that you know what Flakka is as well as what it is not.
For nearly a decade, Flakka could be anonymously and legally ordered online, making it especially attractive to minors. Despite the relative ease of getting the drug, Flakka use remained a relatively niche or uncommon drug until the last five or so years. Recently, here in Georgia, public health officials and law enforcement have noticed an uptick in Flakka addiction, distribution, crime and overdose. In response, there have been statewide efforts to combat this alarming growth by curbing the sale of Flakka and educating the Georgian people about the dangers of Flakka use. This has become a significant concern for officials, especially since it has only contributed to Georgia’s war on drugs. If you are a parent, it should be something that you are at the very least aware of. Flakka use and abuse, will not turn your loved one into zombie superman, but it could have long-lasting health effects, and in some cases, lead to death.
The Movement of Flakka into Georgia
Historically, Florida has been the nexus, the Atlantic seaboard’s point of access, for any foreign drug looking to enter the country. Whether it is cocaine from Colombia or heroin from the Middle East, the vast majority of drugs will first enter the U.S. through Florida. As mentioned, flakka used to be able to be bought and sold legally online. Lawmakers and law enforcement responded to the looming threat by classifying flakka as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal for purchase anywhere including the online sale. While their intentions of making it illegal were noble, once flakka was no longer easy to get, basic economics kicked in; the supply of flakka went way down, the demand went up, and so did the prices. Seeing this response, Chinese synthetic drug producers began to massively increase their production of Alpha-PVP, the chemical compound that makes up flakka. They then flooded the Asian, European and American markets, falsely marketing it as a legal high substitute for Ecstasy. As a result, since 2012, US Drug Enforcement Administration claims that there has been an approximate 800% increase of reported flakka cases.
In 2015, law enforcement personnel confirmed that flakka had crossed over the Florida border and into Georgia. Police encounters with people under the influence of flakka have become more frequent. Reports of ER visits from flakka overdose or flakka related issues have also increased dramatically. Recently, one Georgian police officer, a law enforcement member since 1988, had to subdue a man who was cutting his arms and neck while under the influence of flakka. He told WSB-TV that the encounter was, “One of the scariest things I’ve seen in my life.”
Another officer questioned by News 10 stated that Flakka users were: “People running around with their clothes off thinking they are possessed by the devil.”
Many people want to know can flakka kill you, and unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes. It is easy to see why officers are concerned about the northern spread of the drug since, in South Florida alone, an estimated 40 people have been killed from Flakka overdose. Broward County Sherriff David Scharf says one of the most significant hurdles they face lies in effectively communicating their message. He said, “The challenge to us is education in the community. Telling people not to do this drug, because if you do this drug, you don’t know what is going to happen. In the 30 years, I’ve been in law enforcement, this is the worst drug I’ve ever seen,” said Scharf. “It’s had the most devastating effect on our community, and we’re not sure how long it’s going to last.” In recent months, Southern Georgian police officers have taken preventative measures for combatting the drugs spread by communicating with, learning from and working with Floridan officers.
Due to the relative infancy of this drug, proper studies surrounding the flakka’s effect on the state of Georgia have yet to be conducted. We do not yet have stats on the rate of flakka use as a percentage of a population, nor do we know which demographics are affected by Georgia’s drug problem with this substance. However, if trends follow that which we have seen in Florida, then Georgian law and public health officials are rightly worried. Unfortunately, it will take more years, crimes, broken lives, and deaths before we have a thorough understanding of the specific numbers circulating this deadly, synthetic drug.
What Are Flakka Drugs?
When Flakka was first introduced to the streets, it was given the street name, “gravel,” due to its white, crystalline chunks. The chemical name for flakka is alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone, which is typically abbreviated to Alpha-PVP. Alpha-PVP has a similar structure to MDPV and falls in the same chemical class as bath salts. Made in China, Alpha-PVP contains synthetic chemical blockers which inhibit neurotransmitters and floods the brain with dopamine and serotonin.
Flakka is a synthetic drug that is supposed to be structurally similar to amphetamines in the cathinone class. Cathinones are derived from the Khat plant, which can be found in the Middle East or Somalia. In these places, the leaves from the Khat plant are regularly chewed in order to experience the euphoric high. Although it has been marketed as a competitor to other designer party drugs like ecstasy or molly, flakka is, in truth, nothing like them. In fact, it is far more dangerous, partly because of the reuptake inhibitor mechanism underlying the drug and the way it affects the brain. Norepinephrine and dopamine are critical chemicals for nerve transmission, and this flood of chemicals, especially if one has taken a hefty dose, can lead to a prolonged effect, often known as “excited delirium.”
During the stage of excited delirium, a user’s body temperature can quickly rise, getting as high as 105-106 degrees Fahrenheit. This fever is often times why many reports of Flakka use involve someone being naked or half-dressed, in the attempt to cool off. If the user cannot drastically lower the body temperature, kidney damage and failure can occur from rhabdomyolysis. When rhabdomyolysis occurs, the muscles break down and release a chemical called creatine phosphokinase (CPK), which can poison the kidneys. Psychologically, delirium can lead to severe delusions, paranoia and anxiety, a psychotic state, surges of violence, and loss of awareness.
Short-Term Effects of Flakka Use
As with other stimulants, Flakka affects the brain by flooding the brain’s reward and pleasure centers with serotonin and dopamine. It then impedes reuptake of these neurotransmitters leading to strong euphoric feelings. Other short-term effects include:
- Extreme alertness – Similar to reports of cocaine abuse, flakka users report an overactive sense of alertness. This is marked by a fixed, intense attention and talkativeness. Users who consumed large doses, sometimes, went days without sleep. This lack of sleep only heightens the extremity of flakka’s effect, creating a multiplier effect of sorts, especially if the user continues to partake in the drug.
- Severe anxiety – Some flakka users become paranoid and hyper-anxious. Such paranoia often turns into full-blown delusions, particularly when coupled with hyperthermia and the feeling that the body is failing.
- Increased Aggression – While most reports of flakka use tend to include this category, it should be noted that these are the cases reported, the ones that make news stories. Experts tend to suggest that violence and aggression are not directly linked to flakka, rather, if you already tend to exhibit violence and aggression but keep that repressed, you are more likely to act violently. A person who is generally calm and passive will almost never display symptoms of increased aggression.
- Hyperthermia – As mentioned, hyperthermia may occur, especially in cases of a user taking too large of a dose. This often results in sweating, panting, and the removal of clothing.
- Increased Blood Pressure and rapid heart rate palpitations– When the body begins to overheat, all the other systems work in overdrive to act normally and attempt to cool the body off. As a result, the blood pressure and heart rate of a flakka user are off the charts.
A comedown from flakka typically includes feelings of fatigue, nausea, emptiness, and depression. As tolerance increases, the amount of flakka needed to start the cycle once more is higher. After that, the crash and come down is much harder. This creates a cycle of abuse that can quickly lead to addiction, overdose, and death.
As mentioned above, the long-term effects of flakka use are relatively unknown. Thorough studies have yet to be conducted, although initial research tends to show that flakka is very dangerous for the long-term health of the kidneys and can lead to renal failure. Despite this somewhat limited research, experts agree that flakka has a high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Studies conducted on lab rats tend to show flakka to be even more addictive/dangerous than coke or bath salts, especially since it is far harder to enforce a precise dosage.
Symptoms of Flakka Use
If you have a loved one who is using flakka, your initial thought might be that they are using cocaine since the behaviors are quite similar. Expected behavior changes caused by flakka use include:
- Aberrant or odd behavior
- A greater sense of self
- Extreme agitation
- A state of delirium, or intense confusion
- Symptoms of psychosis including hallucinations and delusions
If you or a loved one in the state of Georgia are addicted to flakka, it is crucial that you act right away. For many Georgians, that first step towards recovery comes with acknowledging their struggle with addiction. The next step to take involves finding a rehab center in Georgia to help rid the addict of their physical dependence. There are a variety of treatment options available, including detox through inpatient or outpatient rehab centers. After that, the real battle, the road towards recovery, begins. So, if this speaks to you, then schedule time with a medical professional for an in-depth look into your struggles with flakka abuse. With medical and family support, you can get clean.
“New Drug Flakka Enters Georgia, Affecting Citizens in Riverdale.” Riverwood Behavioral Health. 5 Mar. 2019. https://www.riverwoodsbehavioral.com/about/riverdale-community-resources/flakka-enters-georgia/
Lord, Debbie. “What Is Flakka and What Does it Do to You?” AJC. 16 Aug. 2016. https://www.ajc.com/news/national/what-flakka-and-what-does-you/crzuriHe3mLLzyyWbQ6bBN/
Storrs, Carina. “What is Flakka (aka Gravel) and Why is it More Dangerous Than Cocaine?” CNN. 26 May 2015. 5 Mar. 2019. https://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/26/health/flakka-gravel-illegal-drugs/index.html