How a deadly drug from China is spreading across US

December 30, 2015 09:15
A flakka high can last several hours and potentially cause more damage than cocaine. Photo: YouTube

Chinese websites openly advertise the mind-altering drug on the Internet and will mail it directly to your home.

You can snort it, smoke it, inject it or just eat it.

And, once you do, sanity won't be an option.

Known on the street as flakka, stories abound about the bizarre, irrational behavior that the synthetic concoction causes.

One man thought he was the mythical god Thor, and had sex with a tree, reported Business Insider.

Another man gnawed and disfigured another man's face before he was shot to death by police.

A flakka user even broke down the hurricane-proof doors of a police department.

Others have run naked through the streets yelling that they’re Satan, impaled themselves on fences, and believed they were being chased by invisible mobs (or packs of animals).

"This is the worst drug I have ever seen in my 18 years of law enforcement across the board," said Johnny Bivens, sheriff of Lewis County, Kentucky, speaking with the Kansas City Star. "Nothing compares to this."

Flakka delivers an instant high that can last from three hours to three days, experts say.

Body temperature spikes, leading to a fiery sensation. Delirium escalates into nightmarish delusions, paranoid psychosis and superhuman combativeness.

Side effects of the hallucinogen sometimes include lingering depression and despair along with suicidal thoughts, said the Sun-Sentinel.

Probably what has brought flakka the most attention is that it gives users what feels like the strength and fury of the Incredible Hulk, said CNN.

But beyond psychotic states of mind, the addictive, Chinese-made designer drug—which sells for as little as US$5 a hit—can easily turn lethal because it's so difficult to control the dose.

"Just a little bit of difference in how much is consumed can be the difference between getting high and dying. It's that critical," Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told CNN.

Flakka has killed more than 35 people in the US, with hospital emergency rooms seeing as many as 20 accidental overdose patients a day, according to reports.

The challenge to US law enforcement officials to stop the flow into American cities is daunting, as flakka is so easy to get and too new to be banned internationally.

More than 150 Chinese companies sell alpha-PVP, the main ingredient in flakka, on the website, according to the New York Times.

There are also numerous Chinese vendors of alpha-PVP on Trademarket, a members-only online shopping website.

At both sites, potential buyers—okay, let's call them pushers—can browse manufacturers of alpha-PVP, send messages, and sometimes even communicate through Skype.

The entire online ordering process, from start to finish, can take as little as 30 minutes—maybe less, authorities told The Washington Post. 

The payoff is immediate.

A kilogram of flakka can be purchased for US$1,500 online and sold for US$50,000 on American streets. (A kilo of cocaine can cost 15 times that or more.)

US authorities, however, have made a few sizable busts.

In October, the Treasury Department froze the assets of Chinese national Bo Peng, and charged him with trafficking 2.2 tons of flakka.

But while the Treasury announcement called Peng's operation "significant", he is just one of what the New York Times says are likely hundreds of peddlers operating in China, primarily located in the southern province of Guangdong, also known as China's synthetic drug factory.

Police in the last year have also arrested a number of Americans who purchased bulk quantities of alpha-PVP from Chinese companies, including two men in Wisconsin, a university student in New York, and a man and woman in Minnesota, said Quartz.

China remains reluctant to thwart online businesses exporting alpha-PVP and other chemicals because the country sees growing supply as a drug issue of other countries, according to Business Insider.

"They just didn't see what was in it for them to look into their own industries exporting these chemicals," Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican ambassador to China, told the NYT.

The Times added that the Chinese chemical industry is weakly regulated and poorly monitored, making it easy for criminal syndicates to obtain the resources they need to produce drugs like flakka.

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