Why Flakka Use Declined Dramatically in South Florida

Why Flakka Use Declined Dramatically in South Florida

Good news from South Florida: the stranglehold of the synthetic drug nicknamed “flakka” on Broward County seems to be over. As the Washington Post reports, flakka—or alpha-PVP as the cathinone is known to scientists—has disappeared from South Florida in just a few months and with little attention. It’s highly unusual for a drug to burst onto the scene with such ferocity and then just vanish. And ferocious it was, turning users in the Miami metropolitan area into “zombies” and hallucinating maniacs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alpha-PVP can cause an excited delirium involving “hyperstimulation, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury.” Such symptoms present serious challenges for first responders, medical professionals, and treatment specialists. Flakka-induced behavior reported in the media was highly disturbing. About a year ago, Fort Lauderdale police reported a man running naked through traffic believing people were chasing him in order to kill him. In a different incident, a man impaled himself when attempting to climb a fence because he believed he had to escape murderers. The Miami Herald reported an incident in April 2015 involving a man under the influence of flakka who believed he was the Norse god Thor and who attempted to have sex with a tree. Getting naked is one of the hallmarks of alpha-PVP abuse, as the drug causes the user’s body temperature to soar. Some users reportedly felt they were on fire. As the Washington Post’s Todd Frankel reports, “the resulting hypothermia contributed to sixty-three flakka-related deaths in Broward County by the end of 2015.” Since December 11, there hasn’t been a single reported flakka fatality in Broward County according to the Sun Sentinel. Why did the situation change so quickly and so dramatically? There are two main reasons. In October, the People’s Republic of China decided to ban the sale of more than 100 synthetic drugs, including alpha-PVP. Chinese labs have been the main source of the flakka supply in the United States. They were continually tweaking the molecular structure of synthetic drugs to circumvent US narcotics laws. Somewhat surprisingly, Beijing decided to shut down the flakka production, for now. At the same time, local law enforcement changed tactics. Instead of taking flakka users to jail, the police took them to hospitals and tried to get them into treatment. They collaborated with anti-flakka campaigns aimed at educating people about the severe dangers of flakka use. Maybe the message got through and users decided flakka was just too dangerous for them. Unfortunately, they may have switched to heroin instead. Investigators in West Palm Beach believe a recent spike in heroin deaths could be related to the decline of flakka.