What is Flakka? Everything You Need to Know

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 | By JP Emerald Coast

You don’t have to be part of the club scene to know about Flakka because it’s been in the news since 2002. That’s when this new drug began making headlines in South Florida for inciting strange behavior, emergency room visits and overdose deaths. Flakka is still so new that specific emergency room stats are not available, but anecdotal evidence that Flakka is a dangerous drug is all over the news media.

There are no specific figures on the amount of Flakka entering the U.S. but Broward County, Florida, is still leading the country in Flakka trafficking. In 2014 alone the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) confiscated Flakka in 477 cases, more than twice as many as any other county. That is compared to 526 meth seizures in the whole state of Florida in the same year. Cook County, Illinois, including the city of Chicago, was the second highest county in the country for Flakka with 212 cases. In Broward County, the DEA is averaging 27 Flakka cases per 100 thousand residents.


There is no official theory about the explosion of Flakka in South Florida, but certain factors add up to this recent trend. There was a crackdown on illegal sale of pills across the state of Florida just before Flakka entered the scene. Flakka is new, comparatively inexpensive and extremely addictive. Its popularity is spreading from Florida across the South and into some other states like Ohio, Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

What Are the Effects of Flakka?

News of Flakka spread quickly because of the unusual behaviors it inspires in its users. Mainstream news media covered stories of this strange new drug causing people to run naked in the streets, attempt to break into police stations for protection from imaginary threats, and perform violent and brutal acts on total strangers.

Here’s a sampling of the Flakka-related news stories:

After smoking Flakka, a man was running through the streets naked trying to escape the people who he supposed stole his clothes and were trying to kill him.

Police describe Flakka as the latest drug craze causing paranoia and bizarre behavior.

Flakka is blamed for a number of bizarre incidents of people hallucinating, acting psychotic and displaying superhuman strength — a frightening combination.

Four Flakka overdoses in three weeks have authorities concerned.

These cases demonstrate the complete loss of control Flakka causes. People under its influence put themselves in dangerous situations, in busy traffic or on structures high off the ground. They compromise their own safety by breaking through glass doors just to seek the safety of a police station. And Flakka-related deaths are becoming common, as well.

The side effects of Flakka include hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia that can cause violent behavior. At higher doses the drug can raise the body temperature high enough to cause muscle breakdown and kidney damage. Overdoses of Flakka can give people additional and unnatural strength before they succumb to heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.


What is Flakka Made Of?

Flakka — or “gravel” as it is sometimes referred — is a synthetic stimulant that looks like a pile of tiny white crystal chunks. It is made from alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP) and can be smoked, snorted, injected or ingested. Alpha-PVP is in the cathinone class of drugs which makes it related to bath salts.

Cathinone drugs are based on a compound found in the khat plant, a native of the Middle East and East Africa. As ancient cultures have known for centuries, chewing on the leaves of the khat plant delivers a slight stimulant effect. Since the 1930s, attempts have been made to synthetically duplicate this property.

Alpha-PVP is a compound that structurally resembles MDPV, a psychoactive stimulant often abused for recreational purposes under the names bath salts, Ivory Wave, plant fertilizer and Vanilla Sky. MDPV was developed in the 1960s but gained popularity around 2004 on the street as a designer drug.

MDPV is a norepinephrine-dopamine re-uptake inhibitor — that’s a fancy way to say it interferes with your brain’s chemical messaging system and affects your mood. It is a stimulant used to treat depression and narcolepsy, and is four times stronger than the popular attention deficit disorder medication Ritalin.

Alpha-PVP also blocks norepinephrine-dopamine re-uptake but does not have any documented medical purposes. Dopamine provides a euphoric sensation while norepinephrine raises heart rate and blood pressure. An increase in both neurotransmitters at the same time can make you feel awake and more alert. Too large a dose, however, creates anxiety and paranoia.

Our understanding of brain chemistry is becoming more sophisticated over time: Although drugs were created in the 20th century to help the practice of psychology, the long-term effects and serious side effects of those drugs were not immediately understood. As the addiction potential of psychotherapeutic drugs was discovered, their use was widely restricted.

Brain-altering chemicals have always been a curiosity of the recreational drug user. These substances create the euphoric feeling they crave but unfortunately come with fairly high addiction rates. Alpha-PVP is believed to remain in the brain much longer than other mood-altering substances, creating damaging long-term effects and a greater likelihood of overdose.

Where Did Flakka Come From?

The term Flakka can refer to more than one synthetic drug as the drug — like ecstasy and bath salts — is modified often by manufacturers trying to remain one step ahead of the law. Manufacturers of synthetic or designer drugs usually start with a psychotherapeutic designed to be helpful and exploit it. As the dangers of these brain altering substances are understood and more tightly controlled or banned, manufacturers tweak the recipe to remain just inside the law.

Drug companies in China are a prime source for substances like Flakka which can be purchased over the internet. Many Chinese laboratories work with the chemicals in alpha-PVP — they are legal in China. Chinese drug companies know what they can legally ship into the U.S. and other foreign markets, and they alter the chemical structure of the substance when they have to.


By changing one molecule, a structure becomes legally different, but the effects are the same. Manufacturers know that people who are using recreational drugs are not concerned with the name or the formula. They are addicted to the way the drug makes them feel. Without proper regulations and testing, manufacturers don’t even know how their changes affect the potency or side effects of a drug.

No one knows exactly why the Flakka explosion was centered in South Florida. Chinese drug manufacturers are a prime source for drug cartels, and there is a strong distribution network in the Miami area. Chances are strong they made the connection with this cheap new drug available from China and began flooding the Florida market with it while it was still legal.

Once the law changed and the formula was altered, it was harder for drug enforcement and border patrol to recognize Flakka coming into the country. There is no field test available yet to law enforcement, and the drug dogs have not been trained to detect it, either. By the time authorities have a handle on stopping these illegal imports, there may be a whole consumer market addicted to Flakka.

Websites that sell Flakka in the U.S. still claim it is a legal substance even though the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) banned it in 2014. People seem to believe that if a substance is legal, it is safe, and if they’ve safely taken a drug they think it is okay to continue even after it becomes illegal.

Tracking Flakka

Experts are comparing the Flakka influx to the ecstasy rage in the 1990s. They say the scariest part is that Flakka is so new that dealers have more information about it than law enforcement and medical personnel. By the time the experts get up to speed, manufacturers will change the formula again and they’ll have to start over.

The Flakka trend started in Florida but it is now present in these states:


  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Texas
  • California
  • Ohio

Flakka not only gets people high, it makes them want to harm themselves and others. People high on Flakka are running out into the street, attacking people, taking children and putting themselves in dangerous situations.

This drug is cheaper than most others, so it is easy to overdose. It is also becoming popular in urban areas and low-income neighborhoods, destroying lives with its cheap, easy addiction.

Dangers of Designer Drugs


Designer drugs are not made in someone’s basement but in a chemical lab by sophisticated chemists. These chemists have read medical literature about experimental drugs that never made it into production. The pharmaceutical industry has a rich history of drug research and development to draw from.

When these chemists form a compound with the desired effect — some mind-altering euphoria, hallucinations or stimulation — they use the structure as a basic framework. By tweaking the formula to evade current drug bans, they can put out a drug that is marketable on the street.

Despite the sophistication of this process and the involvement of pharmaceutical industry information, the designer drug trade isn’t safe. Drugs that are developed and then not brought to market are inherently flawed. Pharmaceutical research and development is very expensive, and the only way the company makes money is to sell the drugs they create. If there is any way to safely and legally sell these drugs, they will.

What designer drug manufacturers do is pick the trash for ideas that didn’t work. In order to bring them to market, they skirt the regulatory process. No one tests or certifies the use and safety of these drugs. Side effects are only documented by the users and long-term effects are not considered at all.

Even more important, there is no quality control for designer drugs. If you buy a pink pill with an “X” marked on it, you take it and you like the results, there is no way to guarantee the next one you take contains the same ingredients. Every batch is different — even from the same dealer and even from the same lab.

No one is checking illicit drugs to be sure there is any consistency in manufacturing. Even the ones that have the same active ingredient may be cut with a different substance. Many of the chemicals used to make these drugs could be unintended for human consumption. There are no production standards.

There are also no dosing standards. Designer drugs do not come in a box marked with the percentage of active ingredient and suggested dose sizes. Alpha-PVP, for instance, is very potent and easy to overdose on. There is no way to guarantee you will get the same dose next time, even if you take the amount.

Overdosing is one of the biggest problems with designer drugs. They are highly addictive, forcing users to want more. Alpha-PVP is very inexpensive and easy to get. Once your brain is affected by drugs and you are not making good decisions, there is nothing to stop you from overdosing on alpha-PVP.

Since Flakka is so new on the U.S. drug scene, law enforcement is not fully prepared to recognize it and medical personnel are not completely versed in dealing with it either. In an emergency situation, your best chance of survival is the quick action of knowledgeable police responding to the scene and hospital staff to understand how to counteract the drugs in your system.

In general, designer drugs are a big mystery. You can tell people what your dealer says he sold you, but without tests, there is no way to be sure what exactly was in it.

What to Do in a Drug Emergency


A lot of designer drugs start out in the club scene with a reputation for being a safe way to enhance the fun. Whether they are fully understood at the time or not, these drugs inevitably turn out to be highly addictive and dangerous. Only the FDA can tell you a drug is safe, and even then it is only safe when taken as directed.

Illegal drugs, banned substances and medicines taken for non-medical reasons are not safe. Even drugs developed in a lab by experienced chemists and given marketable names cannot be trusted. Taking street drugs can and often does end in tragedy.

If someone you know is acting strangely and you have reason to believe he may have taken Flakka or any other designer drug, there are some ways you can help.


  • Act quickly. The faster you get medical attention, the better the outcome will be. If you suspect drugs, don’t hesitate to get help. In this situation, it is better to call an ambulance and be wrong about the drugs than to do nothing and wish you had.
  • Secure the scene. People on Flakka can become violent. Talk your friend away from any sharp objects or dangerous situations. If he is already acting erratically, get everyone else away from him. Understand that Flakka and other drugs can make people do things that are uncharacteristic. Be sure to protect yourself.
  • Gather information. Try to find out what your friend took, how much and when. If he can’t tell you, talk with the people who were with him. Collect the unused drugs for medical testing.
  • Stay calm. Drug overdoses are serious situations that require quick action. But if you stay calm you can keep things from escalating before help arrives.

Flakka makes people anxious and paranoid. In larger doses it also raises body temperature. If you are dealing with a Flakka emergency, be prepared for some strange behavior. Offering some ice packs and a quiet place to sit while waiting for the ambulance might help keep your friend calm and comfortable. No matter what happens, knowing that you did everything you could to help can be comforting.

How to End a Flakka Addiction

Flakka and most of these designer drugs are highly addictive. Some say that Flakka is more addicting than cocaine and meth. If you or anyone you know is using designer drugs it is important to get help right away. Addiction is not something you can overcome on your own.

You can contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast to learn more about the dangers of designer drugs. Our experts understand the latest drug trends facing our society every day. We can give you information about what you may encounter, where it is coming from and what the specific risks are. Knowing the facts about drugs can help you make the decision to move away from addiction and start healing.

At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, we are here to help people seeking recovery from Flakka addiction. We are an effective treatment facility for various substance abuse, dual diagnosis, and comorbid behavioral health challenges; equipped to help you no matter what your addiction situation is with an integrative approach to treatment.

Addiction is a serious disease that affects all aspects of your life and health. At JourneyPure Emerald Coast we utilize experiential therapy in a safe and protected environment. Our passion for healing is focused on each individual, providing the services needed to recover from addiction and begin building a happy, substance-free life.

Contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast today to begin your journey towards healing from addiction. To learn more about Flakka addiction treatment, call us today at (615) 907-5928 – our lines are open 24/7/365.

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