“The New Evil We’re Dealing With:” molly and flakka

Lynette Norris
ECB Publishing, Inc.

It seems that just as law enforcement agencies start to get a handle on one type of illicit “designer drug,” another shows up and the cycle starts all over again. As Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Sears puts Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.54.11 PMit: “Chemists change one molecule (in the chemical makeup of the drug) and it’s no longer illegal. We’re always several months behind.” Sears, Deputy Chris Eades and Sheriff David Hobbs visited the Monticello Kiwanis Club to talk about two of the latest drugs to hit the law enforcement radar screen, with a Powerpoint presentation about some of the more devastating effects of “The New Evil We’re Dealing With.” Molly and flakka are cheap drugs that produce powerful, long-lasting highs followed by hard crashes and damaging effects on the user’s health. Unlike many other illicit drugs that build addiction slowly, molly and flakka addiction is immediate and overwhelming. Between highs, the user is often in a state of depression and dissatisfaction with life, marked by an inability to feel naturally happy or joyful. The brain then places a premium on getting the next “high.” Molly is the purest form of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens) also known as Ecstasy or XTC. Commonly associated with dance parties (“raves”) and electronic music, molly is usually taken as a tablet or pill, but it can also be drunk as a liquid or snorted as powder. Molly affects three important brain chemicals: dopamine, which causes a surge in euphoria and energy; norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.54.18 PMpressure; and serotonin, which effects mood, appetite, sleep, and other body hormones. The more potent flakka, the street name for the chemical alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone, or a-PVP, a synthetic substance with an effect like industrial-strength amphetamines, is similar to another type of drug known as “bath salts,” part of the family of synthetic cathinone-based drugs produced in China and sold online to drug sellers in the U.S. The drug is synthesized from the khat plant, commonly found in the Middle East and Somalia, a plant whose leaves have been chewed for millennia for the resulting mild euphoric effect. However, the effects of flakka are far more intense and severe. It goes to the brain very quickly, producing a condition called “excited delirium.” The body’s temperature can rise as high as 105 degrees, accompanied by hallucinations, severe agitation, hyperactivity, aggression and adrenaline-like surges of strength. The body is insensitive to pain, so tasers have little or no effect, and it can take four or five law enforcement officers to restrain someone in this state. Videos from South Florida have captured some of the bizarre behavior of flakka users, from running naked out into the street, to trying to kick down the door of a police station. Instances of extremely violent behavior include one flakka user chewing off a homeless man’s face. Flakka first began showing up in Broward and Palm Beach Counties around 2014, when 109 cases were reported. The following year, that number had reached nearly 300 by May. Indeed, a Google search of “molly and flakka” shows a flurry of news reports clustered around April and May of 2015, describing the bizarre public behavior associated with “the new designer drug, flakka” emerging as “the crack cocaine of 2015.” Now that the drug has made its way into North Florida and Jefferson County, the JCSO has seen a similar rapid surge in reports. It very quickly went from something they had never heard about to being an everyday problem. At first, the department didn’t even have a test kit for it. The K-9 dogs didn’t react to it, because it was so new. However, flakka isn’t illegal in every single state, and there are no federal regulations. Yet, if a seven-year-old child were to ingest even a small amount, it would kill him, because his heart would not be able to handle it. Parents of young children are all the more concerned because of popular music like Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and Kanye West’s “Mercy” referencing the drug and singing its praises, as well as sweet snacks like gummy bears being coated with the drug, make it all seem very appealing to children and teens. More worrisome is that it’s very, very cheap, compared to other illicit drugs, especially crack cocaine. A $5 hit can produce a high of several hours, making it very affordable to teens. However, it’s extremely hard to judge the dosage level of the drug, because such a small difference in the amount can mean the difference between another high and death. The long-term health effects include the breakdown of muscle fibers that are then released into the blood stream and must be filtered out by the kidneys, resulting in kidney damage – imagine the kidneys being scrubbed out by drain cleaner. In cases of severe damage, the person will be on dialysis for the rest of his or her life. In terms of effects on the community and JSCO, Sheriff Hobbs said he has had to put bars in the back windows of his vehicles, because people high on flakka have kicked them out in the past. These individuals must also be taken to a hospital immediately for medical treatment, or they’ll die. This ties up one of the county’s ambulances. Also, because a deputy must accompany the ambulance crew to ensure their safety, this also ties up a deputy for several hours. JCSO’s battle plan against the flakka epidemic is first, education - teaching people about the very real dangers that go along with the high, and urging them to tell others. Second is enforcement of the law by prosecuting dealers, focusing on Jefferson County alone. Leon County has the money and the people to deal with the problem, but Jefferson is stretched thin. “This is what we re dealing with…we need resources,” he said. “We wouldn’t ask for them if we didn’t need them.” Meanwhile, his department is available with the presentation Eades and Sears had just shown Kiwanis, to speak to churches, clubs, schools or other groups. “Anywhere you want us,” he said. “These kids don’t know what they’re getting into. And once they get started, they can’t stop.”