Flakka – the new zombie drug

A so-called ‘zombie drug’, that has already ravaged the United States, causing a rash of bizarre behaviour in Florida, has apparently risen in popularity in the UK.

In February 2020, Andrea Horvathova, 23, died in Plymouth, having taken a cocktail of substances including the man-made psycho-stimulant Flakka. Her death highlighted the dangers of this new designer drug, which has already been linked to a string of deaths worldwide since 2012 and has been recorded recently in a number of British towns.

What Is Flakka?

It is hard to pinpoint what exactly Flakka is, as its chemical composition changes so often. Flakka is essentially an updated version of what the US calls ‘bath salts’. Bath salts is a type of psychoactive synthetic drug, created in laboratories to mimic the effects of cocaine and MDMA.

There are many different types of bath salts, each with different chemical structures (usually to get around the laws of that country). Whilst synthetic drugs or ‘legal highs’ have been made illegal across the board since 2016, Flakka is the product of drug makers experimenting with different chemical structures in order to make their products technically legal for a long time.

The drug belongs to a group of chemical compounds known as synthetic cathinones, chemically similar to a substance found in the khat plant, which is known to possess stimulant effects. Brand names for some known synthetic cathinones include Bliss, Vanilla Sky, Lunar Wave, Cloud Nine, and White Lightning.

Flakka is the street name for the synthetic cathinone called alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (Alpha-PVP). It makes users feel euphoric and gives them lots of energy, similar to taking ecstasy, speed or cocaine.


Side Effects

Whilst Flakka is designed to give users these positive effects, it is well known for its dangerous side effects, including severe changes in behaviour or mood. The slightest overdose of Flakka can lead to:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Extreme agitation
  • Delirium
  • Muscle tremors and jerking movements
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperstimulation
  • Severe Paranoia

The dangers of Flakka first came into the public consciousness in 2012, with a number of cases in the news over the next few years. Florida was hit particularly hard, with emergency service workers frequently called to deal with patients exhibiting extreme and frightening behaviour.

Cases reported included a man attempting to perform a sex act on a tree and resisting arrest, a paranoid man breaking into a police station, and a naked, agitated man running into traffic.


The Cannibal Attack

In Miami in 2012, police in Florida were called to reports of a man, Rudy Eugene, who had chewed off the face of another man during an extremely violent attack.

The incident, described in the news as an alleged “cannibal attack” was initially blamed on Flakka, but toxicology reports on Eugene’s body (having been shot dead by police) found only marijuana in his system.

Nonetheless, police were convinced that Eugene must have been on drugs at the time, as his behaviour was consistent with that of someone on bath salts. The director of toxicology at the University of Florida, Dr Bruce Goldberger said at the time: “We are not incompetent… We have the tools, we have the sophistication and know-how. But the field is evolving so rapidly it is hard for us to keep track. It’s almost as if it is a race we can never win.”

In an interview with The Sun Online, Jay Weston, a 40-year-old homeless man who has served time in prison, claimed that Flakka and other drugs like it are popular because they are so cheap and easily available.

He said: “Some of the kids have absolutely no idea of the strength of what they’re taking.

“You see them in the city centre, especially at weekends, walking around like zombies.

“Flakka may be new but it isn’t difficult to obtain. You can easily buy speed-type drugs like that on the internet.”

Flakka is a Class B drug costing just £2.30 on the street and is sold as an off-white powder that can be swallowed or snorted. Because of the stimulating effects, many users find it hard to get to sleep or wind down afterwards. For this reason, Jay says that many users take Xanax – a prescription anxiety drug – in order to get to sleep.

“But some kids will mix all and any of these pills with alcohol just to see what happens,” he said. “Drink, painkillers, speed-type drugs – it’s a dangerous mix.”

Complications Of Flakka Use

Whilst Flakka does work as a stimulant and can provide enjoyable effects, it is very easy to overdose on, and taking even a little bit too much can lead to very serious complications. If the user is agitated then they may harm themselves or others, with some reports saying that users have appeared to have “superhuman” strength when under the influence of the drug.

Doctors often argue that the far more dangerous consequences of Flakka use only appear later on, when patients may fall into a state of “excited delirium” – a medical emergency. In a state of excited delirium, patients may have seizures, and often fight and struggle to free themselves if restrained for their own safety. This effort causes the body temperature to shoot up, leading to a condition called hyperthermia. In hyperthermia the body can suffer a series of serious metabolic problems, as well as dehydration, which coupled together can lead to renal failure and, eventually, death.

The Ocean Recovery Centre is available to help anyone suffering from any sort of addiction.

For those addicted to psychoactive synthetic drugs, being monitored around the clock during the early days of detox can be useful to ensure the safety and security of the patient.

At Ocean Recovery Centre you will also be able to enjoy a range of wellness, psychological and physical therapies that will help you to get to the bottom of your addiction, and ensure that you don’t relapse once you head back out into the outside world.

Call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222, to find out more.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: May 13, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.