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The DEA Says the 'Zombie' Drug Flakka Has Come to New York City

Despite the efforts of law enforcement, the infamous synthetic compound has spread from Florida.
November 6, 2015, 9:00pm

The chemical composition of alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone, a.k.a. flakka. Image via Wikipedia

Since early this summer the synthetic drug nicknamed "flakka" has been making for dramatic headlines and the types of stories that media outlets crave: Reportedly, it's caused naked, deranged men to take to the streets or attempt to break down the doors of a police station in order to escape a gang of hallucinatory murderers in imaginary hot pursuit. As VICE has reported previously, the DEA has intensified efforts to stamp out the drug, and started going after dealers and smugglers in Florida, ground zero for the cathinone, which is a chemical cousin to the better known Bath Salts.

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Despite the efforts of law enforcement, the DEA has reported that the drug has trickled into upstate New York and then New York City, which is experiencing an outbreak of the drug and the misery that accompanies it. Flakka-related emergency room visits have increased tenfold since this time last year, and there are now 150 hospital visits a week caused by the drug, according to New York's Pix 11. Particularly hard hit are East Harlem and the Bronx.

"This is poison," Special Agent in Charge of the New York DEA field office James Hunt told Pix 11. "No different than taking rat poison."

A hit of flakka reportedly costs just a few bucks and gives users a high similar to cocaine, but with hallucinations. Produced in China and India, its main ingredient is alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (a.k.a. alpha-PVP), which is related to the psychoactive stimulant methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Users of the drug have reported feelings of extreme euphoria, but the downsides are pretty intense and can include heart attacks and the sort of paranoia that convinces you invisible people want you dead.

It can be purchased on the dark web, and before it became cause for alarm in New York was mostly an issue in Broward County, Florida, the epicenter for the growing flakka epidemic which saw 477 reported cases of flakka use in 2014.

Police who have dealt with the drug paint a bleak picture of its effects, telling tales of dangerous "zombies" in the middle of severe psychotic breaks. YouTube videos of alleged users completely losing their shit leave the rest of us perplexed as to what the appeal could possibly be. But the drug continues to spread, and has turned up in states like Georgia, West Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio.

Most states ban synthetic cathinones, the class of drugs that flakka belongs to, but often drug manufacturers tweak their formula in an attempt to stay on the right side of the letter of the law. Legislators in New Jersey have drafted new "open ended" laws that resemble New York's in hopes that they'll be able to combat new drugs like flakka when they appear on the scene. "As quick as we make the laws, the chemists can make new versions of the drug," Bergen County Assemblyman Tim Eustace told Pix 11.

Calls to the New York division of the DEA were not immediately returned.

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