awful things

Flakka Is Like Bath Salts, But Worse

Synthetic drug flakka.
Synthetic drug flakka. Photo: Broward Sheriff’s Office/AP Photo

On Monday night, police found 19-year-old Florida State University student Austin Harrouff trying to bite off part of the face of a man he’d allegedly just stabbed to death. It took four sheriff’s deputies and a police dog to subdue the shirtless Harrouff, who’d also apparently stabbed the man’s wife to death at their home in Jupiter, Florida. There’s no evidence that Harrouff knew the victims and he had no criminal record. He’s currently on a respirator in life-threatening condition.

While the Martin County Sheriff’s office is still awaiting full toxicology results, they suspect that Harrouff overdosed on the drug flakka, because he exhibited some of the telltale signs, like abnormal strength, removal of clothing, and making animal sounds. But what even is flakka? Basically it’s like bath salts, but worse.

Flakka or “gravel” is the synthetic stimulant Alpha-PVP, a more potent form of the drug known as bath salts, and it is highly addictive. Its small clear or pink crystals can be snorted, smoked, injected, or eaten. Flakka can cause a user’s core body temperature to shoot up to 104 or 105 degrees and make them tear off their clothes while also providing an adrenaline boost that results in high pain tolerance and superhuman strength.

It tends to cause euphoria and hallucinations, but taking even just a little too much of the drug — which costs about $5 a hit — can lead to aggression, paranoia, psychosis, heart problems, and death. Also, apparently, face-eating. It’s so cheap and causes such debilitating mental side effects it’s sometimes called “$5 psychosis.” Drug-treatment professionals say it can take days for first-time users to return to a normal state of mind, and as long as two weeks for repeat users.

Law enforcement officials have found it in Ohio, Chicago, and Houston, but South Florida has been a hotbed for the drug, where it’s been around since 2014. In the first three months of 2015, seizures of flakka overtook those of cocaine in Florida. Dealers used to be able to purchase the drug online from China, where it was legal until October 2015. Police have been arresting people importing large quantities of Alpha-PVP into the U.S., including people in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and a Hunter College student in New York.

What Is Flakka, the Drug Linked to FSU Murder?