Whatever Happened to Flakka? |
A couple of years ago, people were taking a drug called flakka and turning into zombies. Then, all of sudden, flakka disappeared from the headlines. Whatever happened to flakka and the flakka epidemic?
Initially seen on the streets of Miami and southern Florida in 2013, Flakka became notorious for turning people into cannibals and “mindless zombies” that ate people’s faces. America’s introduction to flakka came in 2012 when an individual named Rudy Eugene attacked and ate the eyes and about 75% of Ronald Poppo’s face. Almost immediately, “bath salts” and substituted cathinones and the mysterious Chinese stimulant “flakka” was mentioned as potential Eugene was killed by police and his autopsy failed to reveal any specific agent in his body that might be responsible for his cannibalistic attack. Aside from marijuana, Eugene’s toxicologic report was unremarkable leaving the question – was he just a very mentally ill, very motivated individual or did he ingest some new designer drug that the Miami Dade County Medical Examiner didn’t test for? Eugene had a history of mental illness and friends reported that he didn’t use recreational drugs, but several pills were reportedly discovered in his stomach (the material in Eugene’s stomach was never positively identified as any prescription pill or product). His behavior just hours before his attack, however did not suggest an organic cause for his behavior.
The word “flakka” by the way, is thought by epidemiologists at Broward’s Nova Southeastern University to have been derived from the Spanish slang word “flaca” which means a thin, attractive woman.
Pretty soon, many more examples of bizarre flakka-associated attacks were reported. It seemed that all through the second half of 2012 until the spring of 2016, flakka was everywhere (although mostly in Florida). Then – it just disappeared. I haven’t heard of a flakka-related attack or overdose in 2 years. Whatever happened to flakka?
Before we tackle the subject of whatever happened to flakka we should define what flakka actually is – the chemical name is alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone or α-PVP. It’s also called O-2387 and gravel because some formulations resemble the little rocks found on the bottom of a fishtank. Flakka (or more correctly α-PVP) is a chemical stimulant and a synthetic cathinone, similar to the “bath salt” class of drugs with physical effects similar to 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDVP) which is itself chemically similar to 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA – also known as ecstasy or Molly).
The mechanism of action of α-PVP is via monoamine reuptake inhibition. It can be swallowed, insufflated, administered sublingually, and vaporized.
Cathinones are chemicals derived from the khat plant originating in the Middle East and Somalia—where the leaves are frequently chewed for their stimulant effect. The synthetic cathinones (α-PVP and MDVP) are therefore chemically structurally similar to the amphetamine molecule. The clinical effects would be expected to be similar to those of amphetamines – increased alertness, increased temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure – possibly psychological disturbances like hallucinations and paranoia (particularly with regular chronic use). The abuse potential of amphetamines and danger of psychological injury with chronic use has been known since WWII when pilots were given amphetamines to keep them awake during long flights and subsequently developed paranoia and hallucinations. This was reported as recently as 2002 when, during the Tarnak Farms Incident, US Air National Guard pilot Major Harry Schmidt believed he was taking ground fire while flying a mission near Kandhar, Afghanistan and dropped a laser-guided 500-pound (230 kg) bomb, killing four Canadians and severely injuring eight others. Schmidt blamed the “go pills” – amphetamines that he was encouraged to take – as the reason for his deadly friendly fire mistake.
The main reason why flakka seems to be unavailable anymore was a Chinese ban on the production and export of α-PVP. In 2015, the Obama administration and European governments put pressure on the Chinese to stop production of the drug. The ban went into effect on October 1, 2015 and since almost all the drug manufacturers were located in one province North of Hong Kong, control of the manufacture was swift and effective. By the end of 2016, flakka was almost impossible to find.
That’s probably the best development in American-Chinese relations ever.