A dangerous new drug known as flakka has, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, started to spread death across the United States. When consumed by humans, flakka acts like a cross between cocaine and meth; it causes people to feel euphoric and to mildly hallucinate. Flakka's side effects, however, are far more sinister; the drug can induce seizures, paranoia, and delusions, and cause people to act with bizarre, even psychotic-like, aggressive behavior that can lead to (and, for some people, has led to) injury or death. In fact, people using flakka have sometimes been described as behaving like "zombies."
Flakka--more formally known as alpha-PVP and sometimes known as "gravel"--is a synthetic "bath salt"; it is a mix of one or more chemicals that mimic the effects of an amphetamine-like stimulant. Flakka can be introduced into a person in multiple manners; smoking, snorting, placing it under one's tongue, vaping, and injecting all deliver the drug and trigger its effects.
Modern science and the internet age have created flakka and allowed it to spread; the drug is a manmade substance manufactured primarily in India and China, and is often sold online--sometimes for less than $5 per dose--making it an attractive alternative to many more expensive drugs that have to be grown, harvested, and transported, all while evading law enforcement.
While many sales of flakka have been completed via regular websites based outside of the United States (e.g., Guidechem.com), last month the Chinese government declared alpha-PVP to be a controlled substance--an action that will likely drive some sellers to utilize other venues, but is extremely unlikely to curtail the sale of flakka to people in the U.S.
Flakka, for example, is already sold via marketplaces that utilize the Tor network--promising both buyers and sellers a great deal of anonymity. (For more on how people buy drugs via the Tor network, please see this demonstration that I did for CNBC earlier this year.) Once it arrives in the United States, flakka is also sold on the street like other illegal drugs. While it is often sold as white, pink, or blue crystals, flakka can be distributed in multiple formats--powder, crystals, pills, within liquid, etc.--facilitating shipping, and making its detection by parents and law enforcement more difficult than finding and identifying many other kinds of drugs.
Flakka is cheap and extremely addictive. Some states have passed laws explicitly outlawing it; others rely on a temporary de facto DEA ban that went into effect last year.
Flakka arrived in the United States a few years ago, but it is becoming increasingly popular. According to an article in Forbes, the DEA charted no cases involving flakka in this country in 2010, only 85 cases in 2012, and under a thousand in 2014. It was reported last week that in New York City alone there are now 150 hospital admissions per week related to flakka usage. Likewise, the DEA noted in a report issued last week that "in 2015 there was a sharp rise in the number of overdoses" from flakka usage.
Clearly, we face a dangerous uptick.
The spread of flakka should also raise our awareness as to how quickly modern technology allows drugs to be altered to skirt regulations. Just a few years after the first widespread distribution of synthetic drugs, a new generation of substances--that may be more effective, more addictive, and less expensive--arrive on the scene, and they are typically legal until banned. Government officials--and parents--should take note. As the pace of change accelerates, we must increase our awareness and vigilance, and our ability to address the problem of new, illegal, designer drugs in a more general, faster fashion.
Please feel free to discuss this article with me. I'm on Twitter at @JosephSteinberg.