The Rise and Fall of Flakka

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The Rise and Fall of Flakka

By Valerie Tejeda 04/25/16

Flakka use is rapidly declining and experts believe that a Chinese ban on production and export may play a major role.

The Rise and Fall of Flakka

Nearly two years ago, the synthetic drug known as “flakka” burst on to the drug scene, and with it, off-the-wall reports of erratic behavior and hospitalizations. But now, the flakka craze seems to have burned out, leaving authorities puzzled.

"I have never seen an epidemic emerge so rapidly but literally disappear so quickly," said Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Last spring, about four people were hospitalized for a flakka-related incident everyday in South Florida. State authorities have spent the last two years warning the public of the drug's dangers, and, incredibly, flakka use is slowing down. "Anecdotal reports from both street users and law enforcement officers say that flakka is not even available in the street drug market," said Hall.

Between September 2014 and December 2015, 63 flakka users died in South Florida, according to CNN. But so far in 2016, there have been no reported deaths. And Florida treatment centers reported admitting only six flakka users in January, a stark difference from last fall, when they would admit about 50 every month. Other places around the country, like Chicago, Houston and rural areas of Kentucky, have also reported fewer sightings of the drug.

Authorities are trying to figure out what caused the burnout. According to Hall, it can be traced back to a ban in China on the production and export of alpha-PVP, the chemical name for flakka. Officials in the U.S. had pressured China to enact the ban, which includes 115 other synthetic drugs. It went into effect in October. It also probably helped that nearly all the flakka producers were in one Chinese province, which allowed authorities to "shut it off right at the source," said Hall.

But despite this small victory, others wonder if a replacement drug will pop up soon. "History has shown that one of the unintended consequences to banning certain drugs is that it typically leads to an explosion of new replacement drugs," said Michael Baumann, who studies designer drugs for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Whether that will happen (with flakka) in response to the 116-drug ban is impossible to tell at this point."

So far, no flakka replacements have been reported. But in the meantime, community workers are focused on educating the public about the dangers of flakka and where they can go to receive treatment if they need it. 

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