Does Flakka and Bath Salts Cause Cannibalism?
A recent report of a Florida State University student named Austin Kelly Harrouff who randomly attacked and killed two people – to the point of tearing off the face of one of his victims with his teeth – has left authorities and the general public stunned. The police disclosed that this may be another incident of cannibalism caused by the ingestion of the synthetic drug called “Flakka”, which has also been referred to as the “five dollar insanity” drug.
The drug’s effects include hallucinations, psychosis, excited delirium, and intense adrenaline strength. In Harrouff’s case, the law enforcement authorities found the perpetrator at the crime scene, biting off the flesh of his male victim. He displayed violent behavior and was making loud animal noises. The assailant was tested for flakka and bath salts, substances which are known to produce such crazed behavior.
What is Flakka?
Flakka is a manmade drug whose chemical compound is alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PDP). It is also known as “gravel” or “flocka” and is sold in either white or pink crystals that elicit a foul odor. It may be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized in an e-cigarette device.
It is classified as a psychostimulant drug and belongs to the synthetic cathinone family. It is known to produce effects that are similar to other chemically manufactured cathinones collectively called “bath salts.”
As with stimulants in general, the drug produces intense alertness and focus when ingested. But what most distinguishes Flakka is that it induces a state of “excited delirium” during which the user displays abnormal strength and violent behavior. Its other effects include euphoric sensations, hyperstimulation, extreme agitation, and paranoia that cause users to attack other people or hurt themselves while under the influence of the substance. In most reports, it is said that it takes several people to physically restrain the user who will need to be sedated immediately.
These short-term effects can last for only a few hours but the drug leaves a lingering paranoia in the user’s mind, which can last for several months after ingestion.
The physiological effects include an increase in body temperature, elevated blood pressure, jerking muscle movements, increased heart rate, and palpitations.
When the user enters the state of “excited delirium,” he becomes an imminent threat to himself, to his immediate surroundings, and to the community.
Medically, an ingestion of a high dose of Flakka is very dangerous as the resulting increase in body temperature or hyperthermia coupled with the involuntary muscle jerking can trigger problematic metabolic responses in the body. The muscle tissues can break down and release proteins into the bloodstream. There can also be severe dehydration. A Flakka overdose can cause the development of kidney disease, renal failure, heart disease, and death.
A person under the influence of Flakka is said to be in a “medical emergency” and needs to be treated as soon as possible.
After effects and abuse
The “comedown” – the period when the immediate effects of Flakka leave the body – also produces some after effects that mimic those caused by cocaine and meth. During such period, the user is likely to feel extreme fatigue and depression. These sensations can impel the user to take larger doses of the substance to help him cope with or avoid the after effects. With an increased use of the drug comes the high probability of dependence and abuse.
Furthermore, the drug alters the brain chemistry because it causes an upsurge in dopamine and serotonin levels. Afterwards, the brain experiences a depletion of these chemicals that prompts the compelling need to use larger amounts of the substance to compensate for the temporary deficit.
Frequent use of the drug increases the risks of addiction, overdose, and death.
History and Legal Status
Flakka was first developed in the 1960s and, since then, has been sold as a designer drug. In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified it as a controlled substance with a high potential for abuse. On January 28, 2014, it was listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and was placed under a temporary ban.
The drug is manufactured in other countries such as Pakistan, India, and China, and is being illegally imported to the U.S. where it is sold at a mere $3 to $5 per dose.
It is likewise banned in other countries including Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Turkey, Norway, and the Czech Republic.
Flakka and Cannibalism
Whether or not the effects of ingesting Flakka cause a person to act like a zombie and prompts him to cannibalize his unsuspecting victims is not clearly established. The drug was first associated with cannibalism in 2014 when there was a gruesome incident in Florida where a man cannibalised another person. It later turned out that the user did not, in fact, have the drug in his system.
The recent case, however, raises anew the speculations that the drug-induced state of “excited delirium” can produce abnormal behavior that includes cannibalism.
Reports of cannibalism and bizarre behavior
A number of bizarre incidents that have been linked to the use of Flakka has caused concern among police authorities and government agencies. Some of the notorious reports involving suspected Flakka or bath salts users include the following:
One of the earliest cannibalism reports is that of a 31-year-old named Rody Eugene who in the morning of May 26, 2012, attacked a man at the MacArthur Causeway in Miami, Florida. The victim, who was identified as Ronald Poppo was accused of having stolen the assailant’s Bible. He was subsequently attacked and beaten unconscious by Eugene. The assailant bit off and chewed most of the flesh on Poppo’s face.
The attack left the victim permanently blind and severely scarred. Although he underwent extensive facial reconstructive surgeries, he remained permanently disfigured. At the time of the attack, he had lost approximately 70 to 80 percent of the skin above his beard and both his eyes were gouged out.
At the scene of the arrest, police officers found Eugene completely naked. He failed to respond to the commands of the authorities and reportedly snarled at them. The attack ended when a Miami Police Department Officer named Jose Ramirez shot Eugene five times.The entire event was captured by a security camera at the Miami Herald Building and showed that the attack lasted for about 18 minutes.
The police suspected that Eugene had ingested the synthetic stimulant known as “bath salts” which are notorious for producing highly psychotic effects.
The incident gained so much media attention worldwide and Eugene became known as the “Miami cannibal.”
In May 2016, a report surfaced of a 37-year-old woman named Lindie Stewart who was arrested in Newark, New York for attacking her friend Michael Maricle. According to Maricle, Stewart had attacked him, bit his neck, and tried to eat his face and chin. When Stewart’s boyfriend Rocky Rouse arrived at the scene, he tried to restrain her to prevent her from further attacking the victim but the assailant turned to him and tried to bite his chest and armpit too. Rouse described Stewart as delusional and, at the time of the attack, was uttering bizarre statements.
When the police arrived, they found Maricle’s face bleeding. They restrained Stewart and placed her in handcuffs. At the scene, the officers found substances which they suspected to be bath salts.
Another case is that of James West reported in May 2015. According to the officers at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, the 50-year-old West was under the influence of Flakka when he tried to break down the glass doors of the police headquarters. At the time of the incident, West was hallucinating and believed that there were 25 cars chasing him down Broward Boulevard. He was later brought to the hospital.
The emergency room doctors in Florida reported that they had seen an increase in the number of patients who were brought in due to hallucinations caused by Flakka.
Other Fort Lauderdale incidents
Apart from James West, Fort Lauderdale has seen other bizarre events that arose from the use of Flakka. For instance, there was the incident reported in April 2015 involving Matthew Kenny who ran across the Broward Boulevard traffic because he was trying to escape the imaginary people that were chasing him and trying to kill him. He told the police officers that he wanted a car to hit him so that his pursuers would stop.
Earlier that year, a naked gunman was found on a rooftop in Lake Worth, screaming that somebody was trying to kill him.
Yet another incident was that of a man who tried to scale the security fence of the Fort Lauderdale station. As in the other cases, the man had also been hallucinating and believed that he was being chased by murderers.
Harrouff’s is the most recent case and news of the incident has once again raised alert levels regarding the drug. As reported, the 19-year-old FSU student and fraternity brother unexpectedly assaulted a couple, Michelle and John Stevens, as they were walking in the neighborhood at Jupiter, Florida. Both victims were stabbed multiple times.
A call was placed by a neighbor to 911 and when the police arrived, they found Harrouff on top of John Stevens, biting off his face. Stevens was already dead at that time. The police later found the body of Michelle.
After his arrest, Harrouff was sedated and taken to the hospital. He was clearly suffering from the effects of a powerful drug, which the authorities suspected to be Flakka.
Because of its cheap cost and accessibility in the drug market, the use of Flakka is becoming more prevalent in some areas of the country, particularly in Florida. In Broward County, authorities are trying to address the drug problem, which has been described as one of the worst since crack cocaine. Among the strategies being pushed is a nationwide ban on all designer drugs.
In the meantime, researchers and medical experts are also trying to study the drug’s effects further in order to develop effective therapies. After all, the link between Flakka and cannibalism hasn’t been proven yet.
The public is advised to become more aware of the dangerous effects of Flakka and to immediately seek help or intervention mechanisms for those who are struggling with addiction to the substance.
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