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A recent survey of high school students revealed that almost 1% of American teens knowingly used flakka (a dangerous synthetic psychostimulant) in the past year. The study’s lead author, Joseph Palamar, used data collected by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and published his findings in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence in late January. In addition to deliberately abusing the drug–also nicknamed $5 Insanity and gravel–19.2% of teens who reported taking flakka used it more than 40 times.
The importance is that we are able to draw attention to this dangerous drug right now. We finally have prevalence estimates on a national sample, which hasn’t been done yet.
Since 2015, flakka has become an infamous street drug for its psychostimulant effects similar to “bath salts”–also known as the “zombie” drug. Like that drug and others in the cathinone category, it can be found in opaque crystal chunks. In less than one year in Florida, 80 deaths were attributed to flakka; more than 2,000 emergency department visits in Broward County involved the substance in the same time.
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Like bath salts, flakka is a synthetic version of cathinone, a substance derived from the khat plant. Both drugs are made using the alpha-PVP compound and produce amphetamine-like effects. Though each batch of flakka is different and difficult to gauge the strength of, low doses commonly trigger feelings of euphoria, while higher doses may cause aggression, paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and an excited state of delirium.
Flakka works in the brain by binding to specific neurons responsible for mood regulation, dopamine, and serotonin. Unlike cocaine and meth, however, flakka stays in the brain for much longer, resulting in even more serious and potentially permanent damage. It can also damage kidneys (in some cases requiring dialysis for life), the heart, and the nervous system.
A single dose of flakka can cost between $3 and $5, making it a cheaper alternative to cocaine.
In 2015, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office recorded more than 300 cases of flakka.
15% of people who visited the ER due to flakka in Broward County were under the age of 25.
If someone you know is struggling with an addiction to stimulants, the first step in recovery is to detox from these harmful substances. For more information about drug rehab and recovery options, talk to a provider today.
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