New Designer Drug, Flakka, Hits the Streets
By Keith Graves, Criminal Justice student at American Military University
Police throughout the country, particularly in Florida, have been noticing a spike in the use of a new drug that users are calling “flakka.” Use of the drug is a concern as well as are the crimes that people under the influence are committing.
For example, a Florida man began hallucinating while under the influence of flakka and thought someone was going to kill him, according to news reports. As a result of his paranoia, he attacked an 86-year-old woman and killed her. The suspect is now facing second-degree murder charges. In another case, a Fort Lauderdale man tried to kick in the door of the police station because he thought he was being chased by an automobile seeking to do him harm.
What is Flakka?
Flakka, sometimes referred to as “gravel,” is an off-white powdery substance. It is similar to other drugs often marketed as bath salts, like MDPV and mephedrone. Flakka’s chemical name is alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PVP). Currently, alpha-PVP is almost entirely manufactured in China, India, and Pakistan and shipped to the U.S. where dealers repackage it into gram quantities for sale. There have been some reports of drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and sometimes heroin being adulterated (cut) with flakka.
[Related Article: Impacts of Synthetic Drugs Like Spice and Bath Salts on Officer Safety]
Like many other stimulant drugs, users of flakka often become addicted. Users who take flakka are seeking euphoric stimulation, but often experience anxiety, an accelerated heart rate, paranoia, agitation, and psychosis. Some users have reported impaired ability to think. Some users die as a result of self-destructive behavior or from cardiac arrest.
Officers who want to see more of what people are reporting when high on flakka should search “flakka trip reports” on the Internet. It is an enlightening experience.
How Do People Use Flakka?
Users report taking the drug sublingually (under the tongue), intranasally (snorting), or by smoking it, either from a pipe or off of foil with a straw. Users who have taken the drug sublingually report the drug numbs their tongue, while smokers of the drug report it tastes like crack cocaine.
As with other drugs in this class, because the drug is water soluble, it is also possible to take it rectally (often called booty bumping), but few offenders admit to that technique. The amounts a user may consume ranges from around 2 mg to 30 mg.
Where Are People Buying Flakka?
There are many online sources to buy flakka. Most of the websites are based in Europe. A half-gram will go for approximately $8 while a kilo (2.2 pounds) sells for approximately $2,400. There have been number of cases where flakka has been packaged in capsules (pills) and sold as “Molly” or MDMA.
[Related Article: Ecstasy: Understanding “The Love Drug”]
What to Do if a Suspect Is Under the Influence of Flakka
Signs of intoxication are often consistent with a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, and possibly a hallucinogen. Officers often note hyperactivity, dilated pupils (with the pupils having a minimal reaction to light), an elevated body temperature, elevated pulse, possible increased respiratory rate, paranoia, and hallucinations.
If you encounter a driver who you suspect is under the influence of flakka, it is best to have someone trained in drug recognition conduct the investigation. However, if one is not available, officers should use their usual investigative methods and document the signs of influence and impairment.
The Legal Status of Flakka
Currently in New Mexico, Delaware, Oklahoma, and Virginia flakka is a Schedule I drug. On January 28, 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) listed alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone, along with nine other synthetic cathinones, on the Schedule I with a temporary ban effective February 27, 2014.
It’s hard to tell the longevity of flakka, but its availability online means that demand can be met. While flakka may be a fad drug that dies out quickly, my gut instinct says that it will be around for a while much like other drugs that people have grown fond of in recent years. Officers should be on the lookout for flakka in their communities and respond with extreme caution when responding to suspected cases involving this drug.
About the Author: Keith Graves has been a police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1990 and is currently a supervisor for the Special Operations Unit (a unit tasked with narcotic, vice and gang investigations). Keith is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292) and teaches both the DRE course and the CNOA Drug Abuse Recognition Course. Keith has also taught at the Basic Police Academy and has developed a number of drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association. Keith has held assignments as a Narcotics/Vice Detective, Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and SWAT Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary’s College of California. He is attending American Military University pursuing a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice in the School of Security and Global Studies. Keith is also a member of the Kappa Kappa chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society at AMU. Keith is the founder and president of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.