Flakka in Florida: Effects & Addiction

Flakka, a cheap synthetic product has become the latest dangerous substance of misuse in Florida. In Broward County alone, flakka led to 29 fatalities in 2014.1 In addition to these deaths, hundreds of incidents have been reported involving violent and bizarre encounters with individuals under the influence of flakka.

In spite of the deadly effects of the drug, flakka use has spread rapidly through Florida. The Tampa Tribune reports that drug enforcement agencies have seized multiple shipments of flakka coming in from overseas.2 In 2014, flakka was classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that it has no accepted medical use, and that it is illegal to distribute, possess, or use the drug.3

Flakka and other designer drugs in the class of synthetic cathinones are considered to be a major public health, therefore prompting the DEA to impose an emergency ban on 10 drugs in this category in 2014, including flakka. The DEA stated, “Available evidence on the overall public health risks associated with the use of synthetic cathinones indicates that [flakka] can cause acute health problems leading to emergency department admissions, violent behaviors, causing harm to self or others, or death. In addition, products containing these synthetic cathinone substances often do not bear labeling information regarding their ingredients, and, if they do, they may not list the active synthetic ingredients.”3

What Is Flakka?

What is flakka, and why are drug enforcement officials and public safety officers so concerned about its growing popularity? Derived from a Spanish slang term for “skinny girl” (la flaca), flakka is a stimulant that is highly potent, widely available, and cheap. Flakka is also known on the streets as “$5 insanity”, as well as “gravel”, particularly because of the appearance of its granular, gray crystals. The low cost of flakka makes it highly accessible.4

Medical experts still do not know how this substance can affect a person physically or psychologically over time. The lack of clinical data on the long-term impact of flakka makes its rapid spread across the country even more troubling.

Where Does Flakka Come From?

Florida has been hit especially hard by the emergence of flakka. This synthetic stimulant substance often reaches the shores of the Sunshine State, as it is an easy access point for distributors from South America, China, and other parts of the world where flakka is made, such as Pakistan and India. Drug enforcement agents and customs officials have been fighting the influx of designer substances like flakka in Florida, but this effort hasn’t been easy. In Broward County, Florida, the second most populous county in the state and the site of major transportation hubs like the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, seizures of the synthetic drug surpassed cocaine in 2014.5

Effects of Flakka

The unreliable chemical content of these drugs has made it difficult to detect them in a person’s system and for effective medical treatment to be provided in the event of an overdose. Some of the hallmark signs of flakka intoxication seen in emergency departments include:

  • Severe confusion and disorientation.
  • Abnormal muscle movements (twisting, writhing, convulsions).
  • Tremors.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Paranoid delusions.
  • Psychotic episodes.
  • Vomiting.
  • Violent outbursts.
  • Self-destructive behavior.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Hyperthermia.
  • Sweating.
  • Seizures.

One of the most common of flakka effects is sudden fevers, or hyperthermia. Dangerously elevated body temperatures caused by flakka can lead to internal bleeding, major organ failure, and death. Even after coming down from a flakka high, individuals may experience lingering suicidal thoughts, depression, or despair.

To add to the dangers of flakka, individuals can never be sure of the contents of this substance. Synthesized illegally in overseas labs, designer drugs like flakka can be mixed or “cut” with any number of potentially toxic ingredients, including cannabis, heroin, or cocaine. DEA Special Agent in Charge A.D. Wright was quoted on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website as saying, “Synthetic drugs are the most lethal drugs out there today no matter what trendy names these drug dealers attach to them. Last year it was molly, now it’s flakka, and who knows what it will be called next. They have no idea what they are putting into their bodies.”6

Effects of Flakka on Florida Residents

Cheap and readily available, flakka has become one of the most widely used drugs in South Florida. The drug can be swallowed in capsule form, snorted as a powder, vaporized in electronic cigarettes, or injected. Customs agents have even seized bags of candy sprinkled with finely ground flakka powder. The DEA states that many individuals combine synthetic drugs with other substances, such as alcohol, cocaine, meth, and heroin. A large number of flakka-related deaths have occurred among individuals taking several drugs at the same time. In one tragic example, a 29-year-old Florida woman accidentally overdosed and died from a combination of flakka and the prescription drugs Dilaudid and Xanax.7

Accounts from those who use flakka tell the story of a drug whose scope and impact are still largely unknown. Individuals have described terrifying hallucinations, violent rage, and suicidal impulses. Stories of individuals from Florida and other states show that while most people who experiment with this drug are young and male, there is no “typical” person who uses flakka . The drug has affected college students, single adults, parents, and middle-aged professionals from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

For a Broward County woman featured on NBC Miami, flakka use led to paranoia, delusional thinking, and finally to a leap off a bridge in Fort Lauderdale.8 Intensive recovery and therapy have helped “Stephanie” and others who use flakka restore their physical health and recover from the effects of the “insanity drug.” After a long struggle with addiction to alcohol, street drugs, and finally a destructive episode with flakka, Stephanie considers herself a survivor thanks to the help of recovery services like equine therapy.8 Other therapeutic interventions that can help treat substance use disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, family and couples counseling, and trauma therapy.

Treating Flakka Addiction in Florida

At our inpatient rehab near Tampa, we provide several types of addiction treatment that can help you regain control of your life over flakka misuse. Call us right now at to be connected to one of our rehab admissions navigators to have all your questions answered, including those about paying for rehab and rehab insurance coverage.

Do not wait any longer to reach out for the help you deserve. Get in touch with us right now to start a new tomorrow.

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