It’s easy to dismiss a lot of the stories about “bath salts” that appear in the media. Accounts of drug-crazed “zombies” engaged in cannibalistic violence; stories of violent arrests and accounts of generally insane behavior linked to use of this substance may strain one’s credibility. But make no mistake: bath salts – a catch-all label created as a smoke screen to sell substances containing synthetic cathinone while avoiding police attention – are very dangerous indeed. A designer drug called “flakka” containing synthetic cathinone is becoming increasingly popular across Florida and the southeast.
The origin and meaning of flakka’s name — also known as “gravel” for its pebbly appearance — is unclear. “Flaca” is Spanish for skinny; it’s also a Spanish slang term for a beautiful woman. Flakka’s chief ingredient is a synthetic cathinone called alpha-PVP, part of a family of chemicals derived from cathinone. Cathinone is a methamphetamine-like substance found naturally in the khat plant, whose leaves have been chewed for years as a stimulant in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, synthetic cathinone increase the activity of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, giving the user an intense high. However, many users also report other effects including agitation, hallucinations, chest pain, paranoid delusions and suicidal thoughts. Use of synthetic cathinone can raise the body’s internal temperature to the point of organ damage. Some synthetic cathinone like alpha-PVP have been thought to create a condition called “excited delirium,” a combination of hallucinations and paranoia that can lead to the user engaging in aggressive acts.
Sellers take advantage of legal loopholes to sell these substances in drug paraphernalia shops and minimarts. Frequently labeled as “plant food” or “cellphone glass cleaner” and including warnings that the product isn’t for human consumption, synthetic cathinone can be dismayingly available to users. This availability, coupled with these substances’ cheaper price point over other drugs like MDMA seem to be making synthetic cathinone more popular. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports national crime lab reports for synthetic cathinone has climbed in recent years, from ten in 2004, to 699 in 2010, to 16,500 in 2013.
Due to their relative novelty and volatile effects, treating addiction for flakka and similar drugs can be difficult. Paul Faulk, director of the Broward Addiction Recovery Center told the Sun-Sentinel that users often experience bouts of aggression and psychosis even weeks after taking the drug. As there currently is no drug available to counteract flakka’s effects on the body, drug treatment of flakka users mostly takes place in emergency rooms, where they’re given anti-psychotic medication. Counseling is a challenge as well; Faulk also told the Sun-Sentinel that many flakka users have no recollection of what happened when they were on the drugs and thus have a limited grasp on the consequences of drug use.
The substance addiction community is searching for answers every day to better help people who are struggling with the effects of the abuse of flakka and related drugs. A drug treatment facility will provide the medical and psychological monitoring needed during recovery from flakka abuse. If you or a loved one is undergoing addiction to this or any other street drugs, please call 866-269-2493 for help.