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First National Study on Flakka Finds Disturbing Trend Among Teens

At least 1 percent of American teenagers are using the drug Flakka, but it could be more than that.

The first national study on Flakka was just published and it had some disturbing findings regarding use of the drug among teenagers.

The synthetic street drug, Flakka, was first seen in the news in late 2014 and 2015. The drug causes dangerous side effects and bizarre behavior. Reported cases include a paranoid man attempting to break into a police station to seek safety, as well as a delusional man running naked through oncoming traffic.

What Is Flakka?

Some say that Flakka is either a combination of cocaine and heroin or heroin and methamphetamines. Flakka really is a newer version of the psychoactive synthetic drug known as bath salts.

Bath salts, the drug, have nothing to do with Epsom salts or the bath salts people use to bathe in. They are called bath salts because they look like regular bathing bath salts — white or off-white powder or crystals.

As different types of bath salts are made illegal, illegal drug labs slightly alter the chemical composition, creating a new drug that is technically not illegal. Flakka’s new chemical is called alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone or alpha-PVP.

People take Flakka to get a heightened sense of awareness, a feeling of euphoria, energy and stimulation. The inexpensive drug costs as little as $5 per dose and can be snorted, injected, swallowed, smoked or vaped.

Flaakka’s Side Effects

Flakka has many severe side effects, often triggered by even a slight overdose. Below is a list of side effects compiled by medicinenet.com:

  • elevated heart rate
  • extreme agitation
  • jerking muscle movements
  • delirious thoughts
  • hyperstimulation
  • hallucinations
  • profound paranoia

Recent Studies Show an Increase of Flakka Use in Teenagers

The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducted an annual survey that analyzes drug use in high school students. Using some of this data NYU Langone Medical Center ran the first national study on Flakka use. It published its findings on Tuesday, Jan. 29 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Joseph Palamar, lead author of the study and an associate professor of population health at NYU Langone MC, told CNN: “The main finding was that less than 1 percent of high school seniors are estimated to have used Flakka in the past year.”

According to the study, 19.2 percent of the students who said they used Flakka in the past year used it at least 40 times. Those who used the drug were more likely to have used other drugs and were less likely to live with their parents.

Other experts agree with Palamar’s theory: “I think a lot of people are using without realizing it, particularly ecstasy users, Molly users.”

Flakka, sometimes called “the poor person’s cocaine,” led to 80 deaths just in the state of Florida between September 2014 and December 2015, the new study shows. During that time period, there were more than 2,000 recorded emergency department visits related to the drug’s use in Broward County. One of the youngest users was a 13-year-old, who was among the 15 percent of users who were younger than 25.

Dr. Dan Castellanos, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Florida International University, and his team did their own research of the drug.

It really gets people very, very agitated,” Castellanos said. That includes things like agitation, effects on all the typical systems of your body, increased blood pressure, pulse, sometimes even your temperature.”

“The thing that we found very clearly — and we know this from the novel psychoactive substance world — people say they are taking something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what’s in it. We know this from ecstasy,” said Castellanos.

Cautions Against Flakka Use

Although Flakka affects users differently, Palamar cautioned against its dangers: “That’s one thing that needs to be known: It doesn’t have that effect on everyone who uses it. It is a very dangerous drug. It’s a very potent drug. It’s as potent as methamphetamine.

“What really stands out about Flakka is the wacky behavior that is sometimes associated with its use,” he said. It is bizarre, and you will see that word, even in medical journals, because there is no other way to describe it.


Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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