Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 12th 2015 Contents B31
Friday, June 12, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
For decades, South Florida has bat-
tled drug traffickers who ship boat-
loads of cocaine from South America.
Now the region is dealing with a new
epidemic---cheap, synthetic drugs that
arrive from China through the mail.
As authorities in the Sunshine State
battle with the surge of Alpha-PVP,
better known as "flakka" or "gravel,"
police departments have begun equip-
ping officers with field detection kits,
employing sniffer dogs at mail facilities
and training patrol units to look for
signs of delirium.
The drug s popularity, however, is
only growing. In 2014, the first year it
appeared in the state, authorities in
Broward County, which includes Fort
Lauderdale and Hollywood, recorded
190 incidents involving flakka. By early
May of this year, the number of inci-
dents involving the drug had already
raced past 275.
"Cocaine was king, until this year,"
said Detective William Schwartz, a vet-
eran narcotics officer with the Broward
County Sheriff s Office.
Unlike cocaine, flakka, is both cheap
and accessible. The drug is widely
advertised for sale online by Chinese
companies and can be shipped in large
quantities to US addresses by estab-
lished global delivery companies. Once
it hits the streets, a single dose can sell
for as little as US$5.
Flakka, which was placed on the US
list of illegal controlled substances in
2014, is chemically designed to mimic
cathinone, a natural stimulant found
in the leaves of the khat plant, chewed
traditionally in the Arabian Peninsula
and East Africa.
It gets its nickname from the Spanish
slang for a slender and attractive
woman, and is similar to ecstasy or
MDMA, and so-called "Molly." It is
sold as small clear crystals that can be
popped in the mouth or smoked.
Users are said to feel a sense of super
human strength and delirium.
While flakka has also shown up in
parts of Ohio, Houston and Chicago,
it has made the most substantial US
inroads in South Florida, which his-
torically has had one of the country s
highest rates of drug use.
Florida s long, contiguous coastline
and numerous airports have made the
state a leading US entry point for
cocaine, heroin and marijuana, mostly
funneled from South America through
"We are ground central," said Robert
C Hutchinson, deputy special agent for
Homeland Security Investigations in
Miami. "We want to nip it in the bud
before it gets out of control."
Synthetic drug seizures---almost all
of which is flakka---accounted for 34
per cent of Broward s crime lab reports
in the first three months of 2015, over-
taking cocaine which dropped to 30
per cent, Schwartz said.
"That s the first time in my memory
that a drug has ever surpassed cocaine,"
he added. "We are crossing the thresh-
old into a new world."
One kilo, worth US$50,000 on the
street, can be bought from online com-
panies in China for as little as US$1,500,
drug experts say.
Law enforcement agencies face big
obstacles because flakka is not illegal
in China. Manufacturers there typically
classify the drug as a legitimate
"research chemical," and offer discreet
delivery by mail.
Gil Kerlikowske, the Commissioner
of US Customs and Border Protection
said China had dramatically increased
its criminal investigations into synthetic
drugs but its huge ports and vast ter-
ritory made it harder to tackle.
The Obama administration has raised
the issue of flakka in talks with China,
according to the US State Department.
What has law enforcement and drug
treatment professionals most concerned
are flakka s long-term effects. First-
time users can take three to four days
to return to a normal state of mind,
while for repeat users, it could be 14
to 16 days, according to drug treatment
Dr Peter Ventre, a psychiatrist at Fort
Lauderdale Hospital, said a girl in her
early 20s recently suffered symptoms
similar to a stroke or brain bleeding
after using flakka.
"Now she can t talk, can t recognise
anybody and can t walk on her own,"
he said. (Reuters)
Cheap, synthetic 'flakka'
on Florida drug scene
First time users take three to four days to return to a normal state after using
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