Flakka: Latest Designer Drug Among Teens

By Mendi Baron, LCSW

woman blowing smoke

Running naked across a major intersection, attempting to kick down the doors of a local police precinct, and shouting from a rooftop while naked and wielding a gun; these are just three examples of bizarre behavior that have been linked to flakka, the newest designer drug on the streets. Known by some as “gravel” because it comes in crystalline rock form and deemed “the insanity drug,” by the media, because it causes such crazy behavior, its’ popularity among teens is surging because it is cheap. For just $5, flakka is far too affordable and accessible for adolescents who fail to understand the drug’s serious risks.

While the turbulent years of adolescence present parents with more challenges, conflict, and stress, parents need to remember that they still have a strong influence on the decision-making of their teens. More likely than not, the fact is your teen has already been to at least one party where alcohol and drugs, including flakka, are readily available. When it comes to talking to your teen about critical issues like drug use and abuse, it is important that you keep the lines of communication open. In fact, studies show that the more frequent the antidrug messages are at home, the less likely a teen is to become a user. To start that conversation about this new and deadly designer drug, parents first need to learn as much as they can about flakka; so let me fill you in.

Flakka is addictive, dangerous, and potentially deadly. It resembles a white or pink crystal, a cross between crack cocaine and meth, with a distinctive foul smell. Flakka comes from the same designer drug family as bath salts, which caused a similar string of bizarre behaviors in 2012.

Both bath salts and flakka are cathinones, a class of synthetic drugs that produce short and long-term effects that are similar to crystal meth and cocaine. The effects of the drug can last as few as 3-4 hours, but can also linger for several days. Flakka floods the brain with dopamine and then blocks the brain’s natural dopamine re-uptake process. It also causes a surge in norepinephrine, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and feelings of alertness. It is a highly addictive drug, both from a physical as well as a psychological perspective.

When eaten, snorted, injected or vaporized in an e-cigarette device, flakka creates a feeling of euphoria, “excited delirium,” an abundance of manic energy, and hyper-stimulation. It can also cause excessive sweating, seemingly superhuman strength, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression, self-injury, and even psychosis. Flakka is most commonly vaporized using an e-cigarette, which quickly sends the drug into the bloodstream and increases the likelihood for an overdose. Some flakka users continue to take more of the drug while high, a practice known as “snacking. Or they combine flakka with other drugs, causing serious health complications and drug-induced delirium.

The main ingredient (a chemical compound called alpha-PVP) is not federally regulated, which means the drug is technically legal in any state that doesn’t specifically ban it. Again, because it is so inexpensive, flakka abuse is on the rise and it’s sweeping through Florida as well as popping up in Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

Paramedics who have driven teens high on flakka to emergency rooms, say, “this drug is scary.” The emergency calls come in describing trouble breathing, chest pains, and patients who seem mentally unstable. In addition, when the body enters a state of psychosis from flakka abuse, internal body temperatures can exceed 105 degrees accompanied by a rapid heart rate. Excessive internal temperature can lead to kidney damage, muscle breakdown, or kidney failure. Flakka has been linked to deaths by suicide as well as heart attack.

Talking about drug and alcohol use with your teen is always most effective when it comes as part of a greater conversation. While your words carry weight, no one wants to be lectured, especially teens. Your teen may already know about flakka, so don’t be surprised if they roll their eyes when you broach the subject. Talking about drugs will not tempt your teen to try drugs. A conversation with your teen about drugs is a two-way dialogue: a give and take that builds trust and respect. If you are confident that you have built a trusting relationship with your teen, then your teen will most likely feel comfortable and confident enough to say “no” to drugs and will not succumb to peer pressure as a “cool” way to fit in.

Having this conversation with your adolescent may save their life!

Mendi Baron, LCSW, is the founder and CEO of Evolve Treatment Centers based in Southern California. A passionate advocate for teens in the field of mental health and addiction, Mendi is the go-to expert to start the conversation on critical issues that impact teens and their families. For more information, please go to www.evolvetreatmentcenters.com or call 1800-665-GROW