The headlines of a man-made drug gaining popularity in Florida have been bizarre: Fort Lauderdale police arrested a man after he ran down a major thoroughfare wearing only socks and sneakers.

Bizarre drug making its rounds

The headlines of a man-made drug gaining popularity in Florida have been bizarre: Fort Lauderdale police arrested a man after he ran down a major thoroughfare wearing only socks and sneakers. He told officers he was being pursued by people who had stolen his clothes and was trying to get hit by a car so they would stop chasing him.

In central Florida, a 17-year-old girl ran down the street naked and covered in blood, screaming that she was Satan.

A suicidal man in Lake Worth, Florida, stood on a rooftop—naked and armed with a handgun—screaming to police officers, “I feel delusional, and I’m hallucinating!”

The drug, called flakka, also has made its way to Ohio.

Described as a chemical-cousin to bath salts, flakka, also known as gravel because its crystal-like appearance resembles the grainy pebbles in an aquarium, delivers an instant high that can last from three hours to three days.

What makes flakka dangerous is that it is potent at low doses, and many times, users don’t know how much of the drug they are consuming, authorities say.

It’s also cheap—a tenth of a gram of the white or pink crystal reportedly sells on the streets of Florida for as low as $5—and there are a variety of ways to ingest it. It can be eaten, snorted, injected, vaporized in an e-cigarette and combined with other drugs, such as marijuana.

At high doses, the foul-smelling crystal can spike a body’s temperature—often leading to the shedding of clothes—and can lead to internal bleeding and kidney failure. It also can cause a condition called “excited delirium” that can escalate into nightmarish delusions, paranoia and superhuman strength that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury. Users also face an increased risk of stroke or heart attack, due to their surging heart rate.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency banned flakka’s active ingredient, alpha-PVP, in March 2014 and classified it among the most-dangerous and most-addictive drugs available.

The agency in 2014 identified 3,079 flakka-related cases, with the highest concentration detected in Florida. In Ohio, the highest number of flakka-related cases was reported in Franklin (home of Columbus) and Morrow counties, and in the southern counties of Jackson and Lawrence.

Jill Del Greco, spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which operates the largest crime lab in the state, said instances of flakka have decreased since Ohio banned alpha-PVP along with other synthetic substances in December 2012.
In 2012, flakka was detected in 351 of the cases that law enforcement agencies submitted to the BCI for testing. The number decreased to 199 in 2013 and to 106 in 2014.

As of July 29, BCI had 60 flakka-related cases, Del Greco said.

“We haven’t completely eliminated the problem, but it has significantly dropped because people know that (synthetic drugs) are illegal,” said Del Greco, adding that Ohio has been aggressive in holding accountable people who sell the drug.

Michele Foster, interim lab director of the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab, said it may be too early to detect a trend in Stark County.

“It’s seen here, but still at a relatively low volume,” she said.

In 2013, four law enforcement agencies submitted samples in which flakka’s main ingredient alpha-PVP was detected, Foster said. She said two submissions came from the Canton City Police Department, while Perry and Jackson police departments each submitted one sample.

In 2014, two cases—from Jackson and Massillon—were reported.

So far this year, the drug has been detected in two submissions, both coming from the Alliance Police Department.

“So we went from four (flakka-related submissions) to three to two so far this year,” Foster said. “But I don’t know if it’s enough to say it’s indicative of a pattern yet.”

John Oliver, agent in charge of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office Metropolitan Narcotics Unit, said officers are monitoring flakka’s migration from the South.

“I hear it’s working its way up from Florida,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a trendy thing, like bath salts were. They were here and gone pretty quick.”