The new drug that causes users to rip off their clothes and attack with super-human strength
By Peter Holley June 16, 2015
The incident reports read like the hazy figments of a fevered nightmare come to life — often with a dose of streaking nudity.
There was the man who shed his clothing and ran through a choked Fort Lauderdale intersection while dodging vehicles, police and an unknown number of imaginary attackers, an April incident that was caught on camera.
There was another naked man who, days later, tried to have sex with a tree and would later tell police he was the mythical god Thor, according to the Miami Herald. His proclamation was made in a fit of maniacal rage, after he ripped stun-gun probes from his body and tried to stab the officer with his own badge.
And there were two other men who separately tried to break into the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Both thought people were chasing them, and one ended up impaled on a fence, according to NBC affiliate WFLA.
Authorities have linked all of the bizarre incidents to flakka, a powerful new synthetic drug that has officials alarmed in Florida, where the drug is on the rise.
In Broward County alone, there were more than 300 cases of flakka recorded by the sheriff’s office crime lab during the first three months of 2015, according to county figures. In 2014, there were about 200 cases total. The drug, a spokesman said, is now “wreaking havoc throughout Broward County.”
“Cocaine was king, until this year,” Broward County Sheriff’s Detective William Schwartz told Reuters.
Flakka, according to the county’s human services department, “is a potent, highly addictive stimulant drug. In a small amount the drug provides euphoria, stimulation, and hallucinations. However, just a little bit more can trigger heart problems, agitation, aggressiveness, psychosis, paranoia and excited delirium.”
The drug — a more potent form of what was previously known as bath salts — gets its name from “la flaca,” Spanish slang for a beautiful woman, according to CNN. It is known elsewhere in the country as “gravel” and, according to Reuters, has surfaced in Ohio, Chicago and Houston.
But it is most prevalent in Florida, where users also refer to the volatile substance as “$5 insanity,” “powdered psychosis” and “total mind melt,” the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“People, they start going crazy, just like PCP and LSD did in the old days,” Kevin Stanfill a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Miami field office, told Jacksonville station WJXT. “They get super-human strength, they get paranoid. We get instances here in Florida where a man bit his baby; we get instances here in southern Florida where a man put this baby under water.”
How many instances? Recently, the Sun-Sentinel reported, Broward County’s largest hospital system “started seeing up to 20 emergencies a day” related to flakka, according to Nabil El Sanadi, chief executive of North Broward Hospital District and director of the system’s emergency services.
At least 16 deaths have been attributed to flakka since September in Broward, according to the county’s chief medical examiner, who said last month that “flakka is by far the most dangerous and deadly drug in the bath salt category we’ve seen thus far.”
Last weekend, in nearby Palm Beach, an elderly grandmother died three months after she was savagely beaten by a man who was allegedly high on flakka, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Police accuse Derren Morrison of smoking flakka and drinking “sweet liquor” before he randomly knocked on Louise Clinton’s door. When Clinton opened it, police said, Morrison entered and proceeded to attack the 83-year-old, leaving her with broken bones, cuts and a head injury. Morrison, who was later found collapsed in the street, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, according to the Palm Beach newspaper.
A steady stream of designer drugs has flowed into Florida over the last decade. The names of the synthetic substances may differ — krokodil, meow meow, jenkem — but the effects of the drugs are often the same: paranoia, psychosis, violent behavior, even death.
With a crystalline appearance, making it look like small, white rocks, flakka often resembles crack cocaine. It can be purchased for just a few dollars, authorities say.
Or, to put it another way: “Flakka is cheaper than a Big Mac,” Stanfill, the DEA special agent, told the Sun-Sentinel. “A flakka capsule goes for $3. Most of our kids have $3 in their pockets. That’s the thing that scares me the most, how cheap it is.”
The substance can be snorted, swallowed, injected, smoked or inhaled using an electronic cigarette, according to a news release from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who wanted to warn parents about flakka ahead of summer vacation.
“Parents should talk to their children about this deadly synthetic drug and be aware of what their children are searching for and buying online,” Bondi said in the statement.
The drug’s main ingredient — alpha-PVP — has been banned in Florida since 2012 and, according to the DEA, is now listed as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is classified as the most harmful category of drugs, with no applicable medical use. But that hasn’t necessarily made it very difficult to acquire flakka: It is still fairly simple to find the drug online.
“It’s that easy, and it’s despicable,” Schwartz, the Broward sheriff’s detective,told the Sun-Sentinel. “These drugs are being shipped from China right to your doorstep. You only have to be educated enough to use a computer and you can find it.”
Said Stanfill, the DEA special agent: “Now, anybody can become a drug dealer. It used to be, if you wanted to be a big-time drug dealer, you had to go into the lion’s den. You would have to go to Colombia, Mexico or Afghanistan. Now, you can sit there in your pajamas at your home computer and point and click.”
According to authorities, Alpha PDP typically arrives from China. Other chemicals are often added to the flakka that’s sold on the street. Referring to flakka as a “DEA laboratory,” Stanfill said authorities have found everything
from crushed up aspirin to bug killer in flakka, along with other, unidentified chemicals.
Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, told CNN that the drug disables mood-regulating neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. The result, he said, is that the drug’s chemicals “flood the brain.”
Cocaine has a similar effect on the brain, but the chemicals in flakka can leave users with permanent neurological changes.
“Not only does the drug sit on neurons, it could also destroy them,” CNN reported. “And because flakka, like bath salts, hang around in the brain for longer than cocaine, the extent of the destruction could be greater.”
The short-term effects are terrifying to public health officials and law enforcement, as well. This is how Broward County’s Human Services Department describes the body’s reaction to the drug:
Excited delirium, characterized by hyperthermia, where the body temperature increases to more than 105 degrees, and paranoia causes users to run wild. Flakka can cause individuals to believe that they are being chased or are on fire, causing them to act violently with adrenaline-heightened strength, sometimes requiring 4 to 5 law enforcement officers to restrain them. Once restrained immediate emergency medical attention is required.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had anything that’s been imported into Florida that’s been more dangerous,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told the Sun-Sentinel. “Sometimes it takes five or six deputies to subdue a person. It’s easy to get a hold of, it’s affordable, and it’s deadly. It’s something that we’re taking very, very seriously.”