Florida Succumbs to the Latest Version of Bath Salts
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Florida Succumbs to the Latest Version of Bath Salts


There’s a new drug on the market and it’s targeting teens. Paramedics and emergency room doctors in South Florida are seeing a rise in the number of young people getting hooked on flakka, an evolution of the synthetic drugs known as bath salts. And for those of us who are light years away from teenagers of any kind, the effects it produces are something like a combination between crystal meth and crack cocaine. But more aggressive.

What. The. Flakka.

Turns out bath salts is just another name for an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, a naturally occurring stimulant found in the khat plant, native to East Africa and southern Arabia.

So where did flakka come from? In 2011 and 2012, the DEA banned a host of bath salt ingredients, including one known as MDPV. As a result, enterprising chemists tweaked the molecular structure of MDPV to create similar drugs that could get around the new rules—alpha-PVP, or flakka, being one of them. Kind of like when the recipe calls for walnuts, but you only have pecans—you can’t call them maple walnut cookies anymore—but they’re still pretty much the same. If by “the same” you mean severe hallucinations, psychosis, anxiety, paranoia, combativeness and rapid heartbeat. Oh, and that hour of euphoria, after you throw up.

One Dose and You’re Hooked

So how is this targeting teens? Detectives say the crystals, also known as “gravel,” have a distinctive foul smell, like a sweaty sock. But it’s cheap, easy to get, the crystals can be vaped in an e-cigarette—and grown ups have no idea what it is. (I am not going to lie, until I researched this article, I thought bath salts were actually bath salts. Like, for the tub.)

It is the nature of the young to be pioneers; there is an obvious appeal to doing something their parents know nothing about, and yet still be able to say, “It’s not even illegal,” when they get caught. I believe my mom called that “being snarky.” Take away the potential for getting into trouble with the law and teens are more apt to try something at least once. But according to an online forum I visited, with flakka, it’s almost impossible to stop at just one dose.

Chasing a Higher High

My godson had a kindergarten assignment. An “All About Me” page. On it, he says his favorite color is black, his favorite food is noodles and that he likes to play superhero. Incidentally, superhuman strength is one of the side effects of using flakka. In Fort Lauderdale last month, a man who tried to break down the front door of a local precinct told police officers he was high on the drug. It makes sense that in our bigger, faster, stronger society, something like this would take off. We have this sense that life should be spectacular or we must be doing it wrong. The scary thing about synthetics is that chemists and their customers keep chasing a higher high. But how much higher can they get?

It’s not certain how flakka got its name though one expert says it’s Hispanic slang for a “beautiful, elegant woman who charms all she meets.” Whatever the origins of the name, this drug is just plain ugly.

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About Author

Amanda Fletcher is the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Manager. A prolific travel and freelance feature writer, her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Orange County Register, Coast and Hippocampus magazines, the Ignite magazine blog, FAR & WIDE and more. Originally from Canada, she lives in Los Angeles and is currently finishing her memoir, HALO.