Broward Sheriff Scott Israel Will Host Forum About Flakka at FAU

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel Will Host Forum About Flakka at FAU
Courtesy of Jim Hall

In late January, 33-year-old Leroy Strothers took to the roof of his apartment building in Lake Worth and began screaming. He waved his handgun in the air, terrifying the people below, and then shot it toward the sky. Several people feared he was a sniper and called 911. Deputies from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office ordered people in the apartment building and nearby motels to evacuate because Strothers threatened to kill anyone who came too close to him.

“Someone please call my sister,” he yelled out, then stripped down to just his underwear. “I feel delusional, and I’m hallucinating!”  A SWAT team breached the building, and after hours of negotiating, Strothers, who at one point stuck the muzzle of the gun between his lips,  finally surrendered to police custody.

Though law enforcement first heard of flakka in 2013, and it was made illegal in March 2014, the January incident marked the beginning of a year filled with bizarre incidents attributed to the street drug, which authorities say induces paranoia, psychosis, and extreme combativeness. In April, a man only wearing sneakers ran naked down West Broward Boulevard, convinced he was being hunted by imaginary pursuers, and another naked man, claiming to be the Norse god Thor, tried to have sex with a tree. Yet another naked man in Victoria Park last month was filmed mumbling gibberish toward the sky.

A vial of flakka often costs $5 or less to obtain on the streets. Twenty patients a day are said to suffer from effects of the street drug — also known as a-pyrrolidinovalerophenone, or alpha-PVP. Since last September, there have been 37 flakka-related deaths, according to the Medical Examiner's Office. Officials at Broward Sheriff's Office told New Times this week that in just the first six months of 2015, they have attended to more than 600 flakka-related cases. As part of an ongoing effort to combat the epidemic, the Broward Sheriff's Office will be hosting a forum at Florida Atlantic University September 24 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, CEO of Broward Health, attended community events declaring that flakka use "is a public health crisis" and that local residents "need to stand up and fight this drug."

But at least one person on Earth thinks flakka hysteria might be over-hyped. 

As New Times reported in May, Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason Magazine, penned an article featured in Playboy suggesting reports on flakka have demonized the drug in the eyes on the public.

Sullum told New Times earlier this month he believes the claims by local law enforcement and medical experts that the drug dramatically enhances a person's strength has incited an "irrational panic" rather than "rational caution" of the drug. Sullum believes that because flakka is still relatively new, people are more concerned about it than familiar drugs like cigarettes and alcohol. He also said the bizarre incidents represent only the drug's users with the worst effects. 

"I think [the medical experts] are sincere, but their view of the drug is colored by the fact that the users they encounter in the course of their work are the ones with the worst reactions. The same is true of cops; drugs users who end up in police custody or in the hospital are not a representative sample." He also noted historical paranoia "that certain drugs are like magical potions that impart 'superhuman strength.'"   
Sollum does think Flakka could "possibly" bolster bizarre acts when taken by users with a history of mental illness. "[I]t is plausible that people with preexisting psychological problems would be more likely to react negatively, especially if they have gone without sleep for an extended period of time," he said. 

But Sullum is a lone voice. 

“Anyone under the influence of a mind-altering substance can ‘act out,’” said Keyla Concepción, a public information officer at BSO. "However], the professionals who deal with the drug, the users, and see its effects firsthand take the drug very seriously."

In late July, New Times reported that nearly 200 concerned West Palm Beach residents gathered to discuss and learn more about the new drug. So many people RSVP’d to the event that it had to be relocated to a larger venue so everyone could be accommodated.

Here is the announcement for BSO's September 24 forum: 

 Join Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and a host of high-level Broward County experts who will discuss everything you need to know about Flakka,the new, cheap and dangerous Methamphetamine-like narcotic that has become popular on the streets of Broward County over the last several months. In addition to Flakka, other synthetic drugs such as Spice/K2 (synthetic marijuana); Budder/Wax/Dabs; Ecstasy and Molly will be examined and discussed. The 90 minute presentation will be a mix of lecture and power-point presentations given by Broward County legal, health, science, law enforcement, substance abuse and treatment and recovery experts. After the presentation, the County experts will take questions from the audience. The presentation takes place on Thursday, September 24, 2015 from 5 pm to 7 pm at the FAU Davie campus (located at 3200 College Avenue in Davie) in the Student Union Building, Room 105. Admission and parking are free. The public — including families — are urged to attend this free event.

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