Anti-Flakka Campaign: "Don't Be a Guinea Pig"

Two years ago, flakka arrived in South Florida, provoking a string of bizarre incidents involving paranoid, aggressive naked people under the influence of this cheap, potent stimulant. In January, a naked man was coaxed off a Lake Worth roof by a SWAT team. In March, a man who had taken flakka was found impaled on a spike at the Fort Lauderdale Police station. 

On Thursday, almost 200 concerned West Palm Beach residents gathered to discuss flakka. In fact, so many concerned citizens RSVP’d to the event that it was relocated to a larger venue to make sure everyone could fit. It marked the largest gathering of local leaders meeting solely to discuss flakka and its surge in the community.

The Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition organized the event. “It went phenomenally well,” Executive Director Jeff Kadel told New Times after the event. “So far, it’s been a positive response from everyone. And now they’re going to go and help spread the word.”

By the end of the two-and-a-half-hour event, attendees left with a four-part community action plan to help combat flakka incidents in the community: training, informing, and educating the community and working to bring forward policy changes.

But don’t expect flakka to go away anytime soon. Now that a community action plan was created, residents need to meet in smaller groups to put the plan into action. And even if the plan is put in place, flakka’s effects make it one of the hardest to treat, therapist Aimee Quinn of Lighthouse Recovery Institute, a substance abuse treatment center in Delray Beach, tells New Times. “We’ve had a few patients [addicted to flakka], but they’re hard to maintain. The drug has a lasting effect. They don’t know what’s real and what’s not. They experience paranoia and want to run away,” Quinn says.

She has noticed a recent spike in patients admitted for flakka addiction in the past four or five months. It’s hard for Quinn and others at Lighthouse to distinguish between the effects of flakka and underlying mental-health issues. “The hallucinations they experience, the level of fear and panic and scared feelings you would start to feel, are more intense than heroin,” Quinn points outs. “The level of psychosis is probably terrifying.”

Quinn believes informing the community about flakka would be the best way to prevent addiction. She explains that if more people understood its side effects — paranoia, rage, and spike in body temperature — they might be more hesitant to try. But it’s hard, she says, because often flakka is unknowingly cut and mixed with other drugs like crystal meth and cocaine. “A lot of times, people don’t even realize what they’re taking,” she says.

Kadel agrees and points to the latest campaign, Don’t Be a Guinea Pig, that urges people to avoid consuming anything they aren’t sure of how it was made.
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson