The Spanish slang word for a beautiful woman is flaca, but the illegal synthetic drug of the same name, spelled flakka, gives users extreme symptoms of paranoia, violent behavior and has been called the zombie drug by ER doctors. Its effects are anything but pretty.
Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) testified on a bill Wednesday addressing the $5-hit drug, which has gained popularity from south Florida to rural Kentucky. Over a period of about a year, Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens told the House Judiciary Committee his law enforcement officers had collected five pounds of the synthetic drug in his county. Bivens’ said his office first received an insignificant amount of flakka-related calls, but as time passed his deputies started receiving several calls a day. Bivens, in turn, called Adkins hoping he could help.
Over the last year, Bivens said the frequency of cases involving flakka has increased in his county and in southern Ohio and West Virginia. “Around the first of December 2014, my office began responding to calls encountering individuals that were displaying extreme, bizarre behavior,” Bivens said. “The calls seemed to be universal. Most believed someone was chasing them or trying to kill them. These individuals displayed extreme paranoia, off-the-wall hallucinations, delusions of superhuman strength.”
After interviewing those individuals, Bivens’ officers investigated and arrested about 30 people trafficking and abusing flakka, he said. The things sheriff’s deputies saw, Bivens said, were dumbfounding, horrific, and most importantly, only a misdemeanor offense.
Currently, trafficking in a synthetic drug in Kentucky is a Class A misdemeanor, but Adkins’ bill would change possession of a synthetic drug from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class D felony for a second or subsequent offense.
The bill would hit traffickers with harsher penalties, changing it from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony and a Class C felony for additional offenses. Because of financial restraints and the ever-changing chemical makeup of flakka, which is sold cheaply on the Internet presumably from China, solid dose drug section supervisor for the Kentucky State Police Central Forensic Laboratory Jeremy Triplett said there isn’t a cost-effective kit for law enforcement to test it on the street. Officials say it is more addictive than methamphetamine or heroin, and in fact, investigators have arrested people selling heroin in order to purchase flakka.
“Looking at this for our drug courts and our Cabinet for Family and Health Services, testing for this one drug is $75-100 per test,” Bivens said. “It requires a unified response. When consumed by humans it acts like a cross between cocaine and meth.”
In some rural parts of the U.S. flakka is also known as “gravel.”
Part of Triplett’s job is to track drug trends in Kentucky. He told lawmakers the synthetic drugs in 2010 had potencies four times the amount of substances like marijuana, but substances like flakka have potencies 100–200 times greater.
“I’ve heard stories all across the U.S. People thinking they were being chased by electricity, a story of two individuals doing the drug in a hotel room...that began stabbing the hotel room walls,” Triplett said. “These are serious drugs. They are very addictive. They are about the 10th most common drug we see come into our lab.”
Adkins’ bill passed the committee unanimously and will most likely be heard on the House floor next week.
“The bill basically makes a statute that would handle synthetic drugs for whatever comes next,” Adkins said. “We started just a few years ago with bath salts and now all of the sudden we have a very serious drug called flakka. When we’ve got people on the street who have addiction problems, who have possession of heroin that are basically selling that for cash to be able to buy flakka, we know there are some serious issues and problems.”
When crafting the bill, Adkins said attention was given to stiffen trafficking penalties to deter dealers from selling the drug and leniency in the increased possession charges so judges could compassionately sentence users to rehabilitative programs. Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) said he has a similar bill he is reworking in the Senate and will present next week. Westerfield said he would work in concert with any legislator so legislation can sufficiently combat the rising synthetic drug problem.
“So long as we get the increased penalties out there that’s what I’m worried about,” Westerfield said. “In the last 36 hours, two new substances have been put on my radar. One is a new synthetic and one we are not sure is a new synthetic. We are not sure current statutes adequately define its makeup — *W18 and Kratom.”
(*the area in red in the story, above, are unverifiable information at present.)
By Brad Bowman - The Kentucky Era/Feb. 5, 2016
Photo: the Currier Journal
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