Beware of flakka, the ‘zombie drug’

A highly dangerous yet relatively cheap drug has reportedly reared its ugly head in South Africa.

Flakka is a chemical compound originally synthesised in the 1960s. It is known as next generation ‘bath salts’, a group of related synthetic drugs that was banned in 2012.

Resembling aquarium gravel, flakka is a synthetic psychoactive drug that is structurally related to cathinone. Flakka comes as a white or pink crystal that you can snort, eat, inject or even vape.

“Just like ‘bath salts’, the substance is packaged inconspicuously in plastic bags or vials which are labelled ‘not for human consumption’. You can buy it online or off the street,” says Karen Griessel, a social worker at Rand Aid’s Wedge Gardens substance abuse treatment centre.

She says the reason it has become popular is that it simulates the effects of cocaine and methamphetamines without the high financial cost and it has been reported to be 10 times more powerful than cocaine. Initially, it gives the user a euphoric high but continued use leads to delirium. Hallucinations, paranoia and even increased strength are experienced. Panic attacks, depression, violence, psychosis, suicide and death are associated with overdose.

It increases body temperature and blood pressure which medically can cause kidney damage, a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm and even heart failure.

The drug is bought in bulk online, normally from China, and initially surfaced in South Florida. “Just recently, we received reports that at our South African Gay Pride party, there was an incident of Flakka use and reports of bizarre behaviour,” says Karen.

“The drug appears to have alarming side effects and often police and paramedics are needed to subdue or treat users. There have been bizarre incidents in America and other countries, including reports of a naked man savagely biting another man’s face, a woman running down the street naked screaming obscenities about God and others convinced they were being chased by packs of animals

“It sounds like something out of a horror movie,” says Karen, adding that with the possibility of the drug making a widespread appearance in South Africa, people need to inform themselves of the symptoms.

These include extreme agitation, jerking muscle movements, delirious thoughts and paranoia.

* Wedge Gardens can be reached at 011 430 0320. You can also ‘like’ Wedge Gardens on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre) or follow them on Twitter (@WedgeGardens)