Drug War

The Puzzling Popularity of '$5 Insanity'

Flakka is the worst drug ever yet somehow also the "hot new drug of choice."

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If you have been paying attention to recent news reports about "the dangerous new drug sweeping Florida," you know at least two things about flakka: It gives you "superhuman strength," and you should nevertheless avoid it because it will turn you into a raving lunatic running naked through the streets, chased by invisible enemies, until you drop dead of hyperthermia or a heart attack.

Unlike those malevolent pursuers, flakka's dangers are not entirely imaginary. But the way they have been hyped by the press illustrates once again how yellow journalists collaborate with drug warriors to keep the public in a constant state of panic about the latest chemical menace, which is always worse than the last one.

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, which calls flakka "$5 insanity," quotes a drug treatment counselor who claims "longtime addicts who have tried flakka" are "terrified of it." In fact, he says, "This is as bad as it gets." Until the next drug scare, presumably.

If you want to generate alarm about an exotic intoxicant, it helps to keep the exact nature of the threat mysterious. People who have never heard of flakka before naturally wonder what it is, but that question is harder to answer than you might think. Flakka is alpha-PVP, a synthetic stimulant banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the beginning of 2014. Except when it isn't.

"You got no idea what's in it when you take it," Sgt. Ted Taranu of the Broward Sheriff's Office told WFOR, the CBS station in Miami, last month. "It's whatever the person puts in it to sell it." Jim Hall, a Nova Southeastern University epidemiologist who studies drug trends, told the station, "We've had seizures of flakka in South Florida that have turned out to be combinations of cocaine plus methamphetamine plus heroin."

Hall elaborated on that theme in an interview with CBS News two weeks ago. "One of the kind of 21st-century trends in drug supply is creating new brand names like flakka and building its popularity and then selling anything," he said. "The main issue with this whole category is that the user just doesn't know what they're taking or the strength of what they're taking….We're referring to these as the 'guinea pig drugs.' Often the dealer might not even know what they're selling."

This kind of uncertainty, which is a predictable and familiar feature of the black market created by drug prohibition, is something to keep in mind whenever strange behavior is attributed to a scary new drug. In the absence of a toxicological test, there is no way to know whether someone who says he took flakka got alpha-PVP, something else, or a combination of various drugs.

To make matters more confusing, press accounts sometimes distinguish between flakka and "bath salts," even though that term refers to synthetic versions of cathinone, the active ingredient in the stimulant shrub qat. That category includes alpha-PVP, which is why the DEA decided to ban it. Yet Time warns that flakka "can be even stronger than crystal meth or bath salts."

How strong is that? "On a scale of one to 10," Lt. Dan Zsido of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office told the CBS station in Tampa Bay last month, "flakka is a 12." Apparently going to 11 is not good enough anymore.

Flakka reportedly can impart its amazing strength to people who consume it. Last month a two-and-a-half-minute WFOR story about a guy who tried to break into the Fort Lauderdale Police Department after taking what he described as flakka included five references to "superhuman strength" or "super strength." Yet the station reported that the man, who said he was seeking help because cars were chasing him, "violently and with every ounce of strength in his body tried to get inside," and "the most he got was a crack."

Such supposed feats of strength gave rise to a legend. "New Designer Drug Flakka Gives Users Super-Human Strength," Yahoo News announced in a story posted on April 6. "You're hearing about this aggression, super strength," said John LaPook, chief medical correspondent at CBS News, in an April 2 report. "It reminds me of angel dust in the early '80s….I was in the emergency room at Columbia back then, and I'd know somebody who came in dusted because they'd come in with seven policemen holding down every part of their body, and they'd have, like, superhuman strength, and it sounds like this is a very similar thing."

It does sound like a very similar thing, but not in the way LaPook means. Tales of superhuman strength have been associated with various drugs over the years, including cocaine in the early 1900s, marijuana in the 1920s and '30s, and PCP (a.k.a. angel dust) in the 1970s and '80s. "The notion that drugs produce superhuman strength is simply not true," says Columbia University neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart, who studies the effects of stimulants such as crack cocaine and methamphetamine. "It has never been shown. This is just a continuation of the theme. It should raise red flags for people if they see 'superhuman strength.'"

Hart notes that people who drink too much may become "out of control or difficult to manage," but "you can't say [someone has] superhuman strength with alcohol because no one will believe you." Similarly, "you can no longer make up those stories about marijuana, because there are many people in our society who have used marijuana, so if you say that, you instantly lose credibility with all of those people." By contrast, "you can say it with these new synthetic drugs because people don't know what these drugs are. And if they don't know, maybe it's true. They want to believe it. It's a great story."

The reality is less exciting. "When you look at the effects of cathinones in the laboratory," Hart says, "they just look like any other stimulant." While the agitation and paranoid delusions described in stories about flakka might be seen in some people at high doses, he says, "that's a rare sort of thing," and the bizarre behavior may be due to other factors, such as sleep deprivation or pre-existing psychological problems. Potentially fatal reactions such as heart attacks and hyperthermia likewise are "possible in limited and extreme situations," he says, but "unlikely."

A good rule of thumb is that if a drug user ends up on the news, he probably did something unusual. Yet news reports present these dramatic incidents—the paranoid streaker in Fort Lauderdale, the naked gunman in Lake Worth, the guy who attacked an 82-year-old woman in Riviera Beach, the West Park drug dealer who accidentally killed his friend with a shotgun, the man who got impaled while climbing the fence around the Fort Lauderdale police station—as typical. "That's about irresponsible reporting," says Hart. "That's about getting readers excited to read what you're writing."

Although flakka took the blame for all these incidents, one need not dig far to find competing explanations. The Sun-Sentinel notes that the man who got stuck on the fence "told police he had been diagnosed as schizophrenic."According to the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, the naked man who stood on the roof of a Lake Worth apartment building, holding a handgun and threatening to kill himself, "said he was depressed and claimed to be under the influence of a new designer street drug called 'flakka.'" WTVJ, the NBC station in Miami, reports that the drug dealer who accidentally shot his buddy in the face had not slept in three days, had taken MDMA as well as flakka, and was drinking vodka too.

Why focus on flakka? Because everyone else focuses on flakka. "In the media," says NBC News, "it's been dubbed 'the insanity drug.'" As usual, anti-drug hysteria validates itself.

If you are seeking a calmer view, a good place to look is Erowid.org, an invaluable source of candid information about psychoactive substances. 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 ran naked through the streets or tried to break into a police station.

"The fact that the vast majority of the people who use these substances don't exhibit that behavior tells you that it's not the drug," Hart says. In fact, a drug that frequently caused such reactions would never become popular enough to attract press coverage, since "people don't continue to do things that lead to freaking-out behavior." WFOR calls flakka "the hot new drug of choice," saying it's "popular among the 18-to-30-year-old crowd and is big on the club scene." It is hardly plausible that so many people would want to use a drug that commonly sends its users to jail or the hospital.

"A number of people have used these substances, and they know that did not happen to them," Hart observes. "So the people who are providing this sort of hysterical misinformation lose all credibility with those people. That's my major concern. We don't want to lose credibility, because we want to make sure we keep everybody safe, and the only way we keep people safe is if they trust us and listen to us."

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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  1. So it’s speed,maybe,could be anything in it depending on the dealer? Good thing the air force has a pure,steady supply for their go and no go pills.I guess they don’t buy off the street

  2. “In the media,” says NBC News, “it’s been dubbed ‘the insanity drug.'”

    You blew it, NBC. It *could* have been dubbed ‘the peacock rape drug’.

    1. Those feathers. So sexy.

      1. That’s a man, baby.

    2. Would you belive that Brian Williams first synthesized this drug in his 7th grade science class?

      1. I actually would believe that, yes.

      2. Al Gore begs to differ

  3. “a completely misunderstood compound”

    Nice band name.

    1. Indeed.

      But “Gitmo” is snappier!

      1. Can you imagine the horror of a band called Gitmo? Everything you hated about Rage Against the Machine, but now with added douche!

        1. who – that’s vile

          1. please add an “a” to the end of “who” above – I actually like The Who.

            Thank you for your cooperation.

  4. So then these flakka people are all really terminators from the future? I swear, if this is all some viral marketing campaign for the new reboot…

  5. It is also the QB for the Baltimore Ravens.

    1. No, no – it’s the actor that President Obama referred to to recently – Joe Flakka…

      1. Is Joe Flakka also Joe the Plumber?

        1. I thought it was “James the Plumber”

          /waaaaaaaay mixed up now

  6. I remember when PCP was the scariest of scary drugs. It could turn a mild-mannered accountant-type into a raging, handcuff-snapping animal. These stupid stories are excellent marketing, though.

  7. I clicked on this article hoping the 5 dollar insanity was about foot long subs. This is BULLSHIT!

    1. I prefer Jimmy Johns, although they cost a little more.

      But when they have the BMT for fie dollah? Gotta git one.

  8. The Onion nailed it back in ’97

    CIA Unveils New Ghetto Drugs For ’98

    http://www.theonion.com/articl…..or-98,831/

  9. Also this:

    Nation’s Moms Invent New Recreational Drug To Worry About

    http://www.theonion.com/articl…..rry,28130/

    The totally contrived drug that in no way exists in any objective reality and is only real in the minds of mothers is known by its street name, “scramp,” and according to moms who previously did not have enough actual things to worry about, a batch can be made from everyday household supplies such as sugar, window cleaner, and petroleum jelly.

    1. “a batch can be made from everyday household supplies such as sugar, window cleaner, and petroleum jelly.”

      I guess I know what I’ll be mainlining tonight.

      1. LOL

        “The instructions were posted on the Internet.”

      2. You have to vape scramp. I got a plugged up carotid artery from shooting it in in my neck. Hurt like hell.

    2. Time to ban household products. Just like twenty years ago when Clinton said we should ban fertilizer.

      1. Nobody needs more than 20ppm nitrogen in their soil for self defense anyway.

    3. Free the United Kingdom from Drugs (F.U.K.D.) reports on the recent outbreak of “Cake”-use in England

      Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? If you want to be part of the ‘Summer of Death’

      1. Yellowcake is the best.

  10. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

    ————- http://www.work-cash.com

  11. “It is hardly plausible that so many people would want to use a drug that commonly sends its users to jail or the hospital.”

  12. Flakka ain’t shit compared to Jenkem.

    Which of course was the BEST DRUG HYSTERIA BULLSHIT EVER.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenkem

    1. -1 Aurolac

    2. Shorter: Some dumb assess will believe anything.

  13. Wokka wokka?

  14. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.incomejoin70.com

  15. The problem is not flacca, the problem is Florida.

    1. The stuff is all over the place here in Appalachia (SW VA, NE TN) mainly in the form of gravel.

  16. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

    ————- http://www.work-cash.com

  17. Wakka Flakka Lame.

  18. “The fact that the vast majority of the people who use these substances don’t exhibit that behavior tells you that it’s not the drug,”

    That’s not true. There are a lot of drugs where major adverse side effects only occur within a sub population.

    1. The vast majority of people who use these substances are also not prone to submitting case reports of adverse events.

  19. Start working from home! Great job for students, stay-at-home moms or anyone needing an extra income… You only need a computer and a reliable internet connection… Make $90 hourly and up to $12000 a month by following link at the bottom and signing up… You can have your first check by the end of this week……………..

    http://www.Jobsyelp.com

  20. With the rare exception of the Erowid/Pihkal types who tends to approach these novel compounds with a measure of respect, knowing exactly what and how much they are ingesting.

    Pretty much everyone else who tries the products -not knowing what they really are or how much of whatever is in them- are rather challenged in the responsible behavior department. So anything that might cause them to attract even a little bit more scrutiny is inevitably going to result in some rather sensational story lines.

    The guinea pig aspect is entirely true and what always amazes me. It’s like a magic mushroom hunt led by someone you just met, and who has admits he’s never done it before. Stupidity on parade.

  21. “$5 insanity”

    Seems like they’re trying hard to market the stuff to kids.

  22. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

    ————- http://www.work-cash.com

  23. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.incomejoin70.com

  24. So it’s speed,maybe,could be anything in it depending on the dealer? Good thing the air force has a pure,steady supply for their go and no go pills.I guess they don’t buy off the street

    madalin stunt cars 2

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