Through innocuous sounding names like Flakka, Spice, Bath Salts, and K2, synthetic drugs lull their users into a false sense of security. Something with the name Flakka can’t be harmful, can it? Such a silly name, nothing like the fear inducing names heroin or cocaine, so it can’t be that bad, right? Wrong. By October of last year the drug had been connected to more than 40 deaths in Broward County, Florida and the erratic behaviors displayed by those under its influence were alarming enough that a special task force was created in order to deal with the burgeoning epidemic. Though faced with this, a vast majority of the public is still unaware that drugs like this exist, and of the public health problems that they pose. This coupled with the fact that many of these drugs are legal at their time of inception, due to chemists changing certain compounds to skirt drug laws, and you have a recipe for disaster. As if this wasn’t enough, once a drug is outlawed those same chemist step in and change the chemical make up just a little bit so that the drug is legal again, continuing this process ad infinitum, in a whack-a-mole scenario with law enforcement.
What is a Synthetic Drug?
A synthetic drug is one that is created using man-made chemicals rather than natural ingredients, and often times they are created to produce similar effects as illicit drugs without the legal implications. LSD, Ecstasy, PCP, and GHB are all synthetic drugs but since the history of their creation is quite separate from the creation of drugs like Flakka, we will be excluding them from our conversation.
The History of Synthetic Drugs
Synthetic drugs of the kind that we are now seeing burst on the American Drug Counterculture scene became prevalent in 2008 with the introduction of a synthetic marijuana substitute called Spice. Spice was marketed as a safe, non-addictive, and legal alternative to marijuana and many users sought it out so they could continue to use, but still pass a drug test. However, once this drug was on the market for a while it was found that people who abused this substance did in fact get addicted, and also experienced some severe withdrawal symptoms when they attempted to stop. Among the most common withdrawal symptoms were:
• Suicidal and homicidal thoughts
• Intense fear and paranoia
• Aggressive changes in personality
• Psychotic breaks
• Violent behavior
Around this same time another synthetic drug gained popularity on America shores. That drug is Bath Salts. Bath Salts were initially synthesized in France in 1928 and they are a synthetic cathinones, similar to an amphetamine. People looked to this drug for a safe and legal way to get high, only to find that the effects produced by its powerful chemicals were anything but. The effects produced by Bath Salts were similar to amphetamines, but people also described experiencing agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, increased pulse, high blood pressure, and suicidal thinking, and behavior, as the direct result of taking the drug. Many first time users even describe having paranoid psychoses that lasted for days after ingesting the drug, and some reported a “zombie-like” behavior with a complete break from reality. Speculation of the drug’s effects on people even lead to some believing that the cannibal attack on a homeless in Miami in 2012 was the result of Bath Salt usage. This was later disproved, but the mere fact that it was implicated in the act, shows how dangerous this drug can be.
The devastation caused by Spice, Bath Salts and other synthetic drugs eventually caused the Federal Government to step in and on July 10, 2012 President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Act of 2012, effectively making illegal the synthetic compounds found in many drugs like Spice and Bath Salts.
While this was a major step for law enforcement, in that it now gave them a legal leg to stand on when dealing with the synthetic drug problem in this country, it did little to stem the tide of new synthetic drugs being created.
Enter Flakka and the Internet. Flakka, like Bath Salts, is a synthetic cathinone, but the main ingredient in Flakka, alpha-PVP, was not included in the Synthetic Drug Abuse Act of 2012, and so for a time it was legal. Flakka was mostly produced in China, until it was outlawed there as well in 2015, and was readily available on the Internet if you knew where to look. The side effects from Flakka are described as bizarre behavior, agitation, paranoia, and delusions of superhuman strength. While this may sound like something that you want to experience, keep in mind that the bizarre behavior described tends to result in the person running through the streets naked, thinking that people are after them.
One of the first highly publicized deaths as a result of Flakka usage was in 2014 when Adonis Escoto died at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Interestingly, this event occurred right around the time the DEA issued a “temporary” scheduling that made Alpha-PVP illegal. The Flakka epidemic reached fever pitch in 2015, which resulted in the Federal Government intervening, setting up specific task forces in order to stamp out the sale and distribution of this dangerous drug. Their efforts have been successful as death and other incidents attributed to Flakka have reduced dramatically in 2016.
The Future of Synthetic Drugs
If the past 10 year have been any indication then the problem with synthetic drugs in this country is nowhere near over. The passing of one law creates a vacuum and as nature abhors vacuums, they are filled quickly with another slightly different drug that will produce the same societal effects. How this is best dealt with is beyond me, but getting better access to education and treatment is a good start. Fighting drugs with laws is a losing proposition and so the tone we take in the country must shift. President Obama meeting with Macklemore this month in order to address the growing opiate epidemic in this country is a step in the right direction, but we must continue to explore these avenues if we ever hope to rid ourselves of these dangerous and deadly synthetic drugs.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.