Flakka: What Parents Need to Know About This Synthetic Drug

flakka

As parents, we could spend all of our days and nights worrying about our kids’ safety and the potential things that may harm them. One of the ways I think we can put our minds at ease, at least somewhat, is by talking to and educating our kids about the things that keep us up at night.

Because I am a drug abuse prevention specialist, educating my children about new drug threats is at the top of my list. One drug that has been in the news recently has me particularly concerned, not just for my kids’ safety, but for the community at large.

Flakka, also known as gravel, is a synthetically derived drug that news outlets have reported cases of human exposure in Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. It is a synthetic stimulant and hallucinogen known by the chemical name of alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (AlphaPVP). Alpha-PVP is a chemical cousin to the now illegal, synthetically-derived stimulant and hallucinogen known as MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone), which is one of the early chemicals found in the products being sold under the innocent name of “bath salts.”

Flakka has raised alarms in the medical community for the following reasons:

  • Its physical side effects are significant. Flakka disrupts the body’s ability to regulate neurotransmitters norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, so users may experience delirium, paranoia, hallucinations and aggression. It has been found to cause extreme elevation in body temperature, even up to 105 degrees in some cases. Extremely high temperatures like this may lead to kidney failure and death. In addition, extreme elevations in body temperature have been linked to the finding of naked individuals under the influence of these drugs.
  • It can be bought on the internet. A child with access to their own or parent’s credit card may easily purchase these, no ID required.
  • It’s cheap. There have been reports of it being available for $3-$5, which means that there is a low barrier to entry.
  • It has been found in various forms – including gummy bears. Flakka can be injected, snorted, vaporized in an e-cigarette, or ingested. It can also be ground into a fine crystal which has been found sprinkled on gummy bears seized by law enforcement in Florida. Drugs found in candy form, such as gummy bears, are a particular hazard for young children.
  • Reported cases are on the rise. Alpha PVP has been identified in drug seizures since 2011, where it initially showed up in Nebraska. By 2012, Alpha PVP was discovered in 20 states. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has seen a significant increase of drugs seized and identified as Alpha-PVP and there were 2,949 reports of Alpha-PVP recorded in 2014.
  • Synthetically-derived drugs like Alpha-PVP aren’t likely to go away any time soon. The labs making these synthetic drugs are outside the USA, and as soon as one drug is made illegal in this country, another chemical is derived and sold to willing buyers. In this way the new drugs skirt the legal system. Individuals that use these chemicals may believe these have been tested and are safe, and may not be aware of how unpredictable and dangerous the effects actually are. The truth is much more sinister since we have little to no scientific data on what may happen when someone uses them. We have already heard reports of people exhibiting extremely bizarre behavior, placing themselves and others at risk of harm, including some deaths recorded from people under the influence of these previously unknown chemicals.

Education of our children is the most important thing we as parents can do to help them make smart decisions about drug use. No matter what the drug is, the conversations should be similar. Help them understand the dangers, including the potentially serious side effects of the new drugs that appear and/or are heard about in the news. It is only in keeping this dialogue open and continuous that we can keep our children safe from the dangers that lurk as close as our computers.

Please do not hesitate to call your Drug and Poison Information Center if you or your teens have any questions. We are here to help 24/7 at 800-222-1222.

Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT

About the Author: Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT

Sheila Goertemoeller PharmD, DABAT, ICPS is a pharmacist and clinical toxicologist with 22 years of experience at the Drug and Poison Information Center Hotline at Cincinnati Children’s.

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