In 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration banned two chemicals used to make the synthetic street drug bath salts. In response, illegal drug manufacturers tweaked their formula. The outcome was a new synthetic stimulant called flakka.
Flakka is the nickname of alpha-PVP, a synthetic cathinone derived from the African khat plant. The designer drug is chemically similar to 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), an active ingredient in bath salts. Like other illicit stimulants, alpha-PVP can be life-threatening.
From 2013 to 2015, flakka use became an epidemic in poor neighborhoods in South Florida. People high on the synthetic cathinone began acting erratically — exhibiting bizarre behaviors and becoming uncontrollably volatile. This led to a number of emergency department visits, overdoses and deaths.
Although alpha-PVP use in that area has largely subsided, the dangerous drug continues to harm people in other regions of the United States. It can damage a person’s physical and psychological health. People addicted to the stimulant should seek treatment immediately.
Flakka is a highly addictive substance. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute found that the potency and addictiveness of alpha-PVP is similar to that of bath salts.
Continued flakka use can induce cravings. It can cause compulsive drug-seeking behavior even when people know the health, social and legal consequences of their actions. When taken in high doses, alpha-PVP can result in overdose.
The DEA classifies flakka as a Schedule I substance, making it illegal in the United States. Schedule I drugs have no acceptable medical purposes and a high potential for abuse.
Flakka resembles white or pink gravel, salt or grains of sand. This foul-smelling drug also comes in powder form. It can be smoked in a joint or e-cigarette, injected or compressed into capsules and swallowed.
When vaporized, alpha-PVP quickly enters the bloodstream, and its effects are felt more rapidly. However, this method of administration makes overdose more likely.
Alpha-PVP produces a rush of dopamine in the brain, causing an intense high similar to that of cocaine and methamphetamine. Flakka enhances energy, alertness and mood. But it can also cause agitated delirium and sometimes results in psychiatric hospitalization.
The effects of flakka can include:
These effects occur five to 15 minutes after ingestion. They last between two and five hours, which is similar to the duration of the effects of effects of bath salts.
Flakka is sometimes referred to as the “zombie drug.” Individuals high on alpha-PVP may experience an altered mental state that induces psychosis. The synthetic substance can also produce unusual physical strength. In some situations, multiple police officers may be needed to subdue someone intoxicated on flakka.
The stimulant can even produce psychological problems in those with no history of mental illness. A 2016 study published in the journal Case Reports in Psychiatry indicated that a teen girl with no past psychiatric diagnosis experienced psychotic episodes after taking flakka.
Flakka has been added to other illicit drugs as well. Many street dealers sell cocaine or crystal meth laced with flakka. But mixing flakka with other drugs can exacerbate its effects and lead to overdose or death.
If someone exhibits bizarre or harmful behaviors resulting from flakka use, call 911 immediately. Do not engage the individual because he or she may become violent. The person likely will be treated at a psychiatric hospital.
Benzodiazepines may be used to calm the individual, and antipsychotics such as olanzapine might help alleviate symptoms of drug-induced psychosis. But no medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat alpha-PVP abuse.
After symptoms of flakka have subsided, the patient is discharged.
People addicted to flakka should seek professional treatment. Rehab offers evidence-based therapies that can help clients learn the underlying causes of their substance abuse problems. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy can teach patients how to overcome triggers and cravings.
To learn more about flakka and other synthetic cathinones, call your local poison control center at 800-222-1222. A representative can provide you with information on the dangers of alpha-PVP and how to assist someone who is high on the synthetic cathinone.
Other Addiction Topics
Calls will be answered by a qualified admissions representative with Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS), the owners of DrugRehab.com. We look forward to helping you!
Phone calls to treatment center listings not associated with ARS will go directly to those centers. DrugRehab.com and ARS are not responsible for those calls.