In 2012 WFOR, the CBS station in Miami, set off a worldwide media frenzy when it suggested that "bath salts," a generic label for various synthetic cathinones (stimulants that resemble the active ingredient in qat), had turned a man named Rudy Eugene into a flesh-eating zombie. Toxicological tests eventually showed that Eugene had not consumed any of those stimulants. If that episode had any sort of chastening effect on WFOR's news staff, it is not apparent in Carey Codd's recent report on a guy who tried to break into a Fort Lauderdale police station and later told the cops he had taken "flakka," a.k.a. alpha-PVP, which was one of 10 synthetic cathinones banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration last year. According to police, James West said he was trying to get help because he was being chased by several cars. What happened next is not quite as horrifying as Rudy Eugene's face-mangling assault on Ronald Poppo:
When pulling and kicking the front door didn't work, that's when [West] was seen [on security camera video] grabbing big rocks, trying to break through the hurricane-resistant glass. The most he got was a crack. That's when police said he took off running into the officers' parking lot, where he was captured.
Codd shows the video of West "going crazy on that door" to Nabil El Sanadi, a local emergency room physician, who claims it shows the "superhuman strength" with which flakka endows its users. El Sanadi, Codd, and Sgt. Ted Taranu of the Broward Sheriff's Office use the phrase "superhuman strength" or "super strength" five times during the two-and-a-half minute story. Yet Codd says West "violently and with every ounce of strength in his body tried to get inside," and "the most he got was a crack." I guess superhuman strength isn't what it used to be.
Without a toxicological test that apparently was not performed, we really don't know what West took, and neither does he. In a story posted last week, Codd said flakka is alpha-PVP, then immediately contradicted that equivalency with a quote from Tarnau:
"You got no idea what's in it when you take it," Taranu said. "It's whatever the person puts in it to sell it."
That problem is a predictable feature of the black market created by prohibition, a policy that also explains the proliferation of unfamiliar drugs aimed at staying a step ahead of the law. But let's say West took alpha-PVP. Codd presents his reaction as typical or at least common, saying "many who use [flakka] lose touch with reality" and "many on the drug hallucinate." A good rule of thumb is that if a drug user ends up on the news, his behavior is probably pretty unusual, notwithstanding Codd's implication to the contrary. Last week Codd warned that flakka "could be the hot new drug of choice." As with every other drug that is said to be both extremely dangerous and extremely popular, it is hard to reconcile those two claims, assuming that people generally do not want to end up in police custody with a bandaged face.
For what it's worth, Erowid has two accounts from alpha-PVP users, one of whom likes the drug and calls it "a completely misunderstood compound." The other user says the stimulant raised his heart rate uncomfortably and was "not worth my time." Neither of them tried to break into a police station.