Use of a dangerous synthetic cathinone drug called alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PDP), popularly known as “Flakka,” is surging in Florida and is also being reported in other parts of the country, according to news reports. In some parts of the country, it is also called “gravel” because of its white crystal chunks that have been compared to aquarium gravel.
Alpha-PDP is chemically similar to other synthetic cathinone drugs popularly called “bath salts” but like bath salts, flakka has the potential to be much more dangerous than cocaine.
Flakka takes the form of a white or pink, foul-smelling crystal that can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized in an e-cigarette or similar device. Vaporizing, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose. Like other drugs of this type, alpha-PDP can cause a condition called “excited delirium” that involves hyperstimulation, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury. The drug has been linked to deaths by suicide as well as heart attack. It can also dangerously raise body temperature and lead to kidney damage or kidney failure. It’s so difficult to control the exact dose of flakka. Just a little bit of difference in how much is consumed can be the difference between getting high and dying. It’s that critical. Although a typical flakka high can last one to several hours, it is possible that the neurological effects can be permanent. Not only does the drug sit on neurons, it could also destroy them. And because flakka, like bath salts, hang around in the brain for longer than cocaine, the extent of the destruction could be greater.
Another serious, potentially lingering side effect of flakka is the effect on kidneys. The drug can cause muscles to break down, as a result of hyperthermia, taking a toll on kidneys. Experts worry that some survivors of flakka overdoses may be on dialysis for the rest of their life.
Like most synthetic drugs, the bulk of flakka seems to come from China and is either sold over the Internet or through gas stations or other dealers. A dose can go for $3 to $5, which makes it a cheap alternative to cocaine. It is unclear at this point whether flakka is more dangerous than the “bath salts” that came before it. But it does have one advantage over its predecessor: it has not been banned – yet.
Although the Drug Enforcement Administration has placed a temporary ban on flakka, drug makers can work around this ban, such as by sticking a “not for human consumption” label on the drug.
For more information, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Poison centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year for poisoning emergencies and for informational calls, too.