By Bary Alyssa Johnson (b.johnson@latinospost.com) | First Posted: May 27, 2015 12:39 PM EDT
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"Flakka" is the Newest Deadly Drug to Hit U.S. Streets (Photo : YouTube / CBSN)

A new drug called "flakka" has users in south Florida and elsewhere in the United States flocking to street corners for a taste, according to drug abuse officials. The lethal synthetic compound is causing a big stir among users, the likes of which haven't been seen since the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1990s.

According to a report from WebMD, the stimulant also known as "gravel" or "alphaPVP" is similar to another popular (but now banned) drug - "bath salts" - and is dirt cheap, at about $5 a hit. It's also potentially quite deadly and hospitals and poison control centers across Florida as well as in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Ohio are reporting increasing numbers of flakka overdoses as the drug eases its way across the U.S.

The high is reportedly similar to that of cocaine and gives users a feeling of euphoria by toying with neurotransmitters in the brain including dopamine and serotonin. A hit of flakka can last from one to several hours and causes a state of mind dubbed by health officials as "excited" or "agitated" delirium.

According to Alfred Aleguas PharmD, managing director of the Florida Poison Information  Center in Tampa, users high on flakka are often reported to lose touch with reality, amongst other side effects.

"[Users] don't know what they're doing, they're hallucinating, they're paranoid, they're aggressive, they're hyper-agitated," Aleguas told WebMD. "You see news stories of people running down the street naked, banging on cars in traffic and just crazy, crazy stuff."

CNN has reported on some cases of extreme flakka trips, including a story about a man who broke down the hurricane-proof doors of a police department, thanks to the "superhuman" strength that sometimes accompanies a flakka high.

Other health-related side effects of flakka use include rapid or irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, seizures and hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) that can cause the body to heat up to 108 degrees or more, leading to internal bleeding, multi-organ shutdown and possibly death.

According to poison control officials, flakka is reportedly being used in a number of different ways, with methods of indulging including snorting, mixing with food, drinking like tea, pressing into pill form, inserting into the rectum, vaping in an e-cigarette and injecting.

A lot of the danger associated with flakka highs are related to dosing the drug, which is often cut with any number of other unknown substances.

"It's so difficult to control the exact dose [of flakka]," Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Florida told CNN. "Just a little bit of difference in how much is consumed can be the difference between getting high and dying. It's that critical."

There's also no quality control of the drug on the street, according to Jeffrey Bernstein, MD, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami.

In addition, Bernstein reports that although flakka is a newer drug and trends relating to it have yet to be studied or analyzed, the typical flakka users are male and are aged between their teens and through the 20s and 30s. He says that he has yet to come across any "regular" flakka users and it's his opinion that the drug is used sporadically, usually at parties or concerts,

However, in an interview with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Hall likened flakka to crack cocaine, not only in side effects and cost, but also with potential to become an epic problem epidemic throughout the country.

"This is as close as we've come to a crack cocaine problem since 1995 in terms of the severe reactions, low prices, and that it's available to young kids, and even homeless populations are now impacted," Hall said.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has placed a temporary ban on flakka, but that ban is reportedly easy enough for importers and others to side skirt on technicalities. For a federal ban to be put permanently into place, it will likely take officials several years to compile all of the necessary data on the drug.

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