Scary new designer drug flakka hits Chicago

It causes hallucinations, psychotic episodes and violence -- and its use appears to be spreading. The designer drug called flakka, which first raised alarms in South Florida, is now turning up in the Chicago area.

CBS Chicago's Dave Savini reports flakka is targeted at young people with its cheap high, which costs just $3 to $5. The drug, also called "gravel," has been popular in Florida, Ohio and Texas, where it's been linked to as many as 20 hospitalizations per day and nearly a dozen deaths.

Users can suffer extremely high body temperatures, 105 to 107 degrees, and hallucinations.

24-year-old Mike Haney of New Lenox, southwest of Chicago, unknowingly took flakka and then experienced a psychotic episode, blacking out and also running around the neighborhood naked.

"He has no recollection of what he did while on flakka," said his stepmother, Melissa Haney.

Mike Haney says the drug made him crazy. "I went to jail, and I don't remember anything until my third day in jail. I was completely out of my mind."

 

He says dealers often give flakka free to first-time users, just to get them hooked.

Flakka is made from a synthetic version of an amphetamine-like stimulant, similar to other drugs like bath salts, and can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed. It can make a person violent and falsely feel invincible.

"I started getting very violent and vulgar," Haney said.

Dennis Wichern, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago field division, says this drug is linked to at least 10 deaths and also is being cut with rat poison and insecticides. It's sold online.

"It's part stimulant like meth or amphetamine, part hallucinogenic like MDMA [Molly], and it has the ability to have a little bit of attributes like PCP," Wichern said. "It's causing big issues for us."

So big, in fact, the DEA put it on an emergency list last year, making flakka illegal. The drug is mainly coming from China and is being seized at O'Hare International Airport, says Ralph Piccirilli with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He showed CBS 2 the flakka seized in Chicago in just the last three days. It comes in different colors and often is shipped hidden inside pool filter boxes.

"It's absolutely deadly," Piccirilli says of the drug.

"I could have killed somebody," Mike Haney says. "I could have killed myself. I have no recollection of anything. It was the scariest thing I'd ever been through."

Other notorious incidents involving flakka include the case of a Florida man caught on camera last month trying to break down the door of a police station. Two weeks later, Fort Lauderdale police say a man tried to scale a fence but was impaled on the spikes instead.

Recently, in DuPage County, Illinois, the DEA was involved in a bust that included confiscating flakka. Between drug busts and seizures and warning people about the dangers, federal agents hope to stop the flow of the drug.

But it is hard for law enforcement to keep up with the flood of synthetic drugs. "One of the kind of 21st century trends in drug supply is creating new brand names like flakka and building its popularity and then selling anything," Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, Florida, told CBS News earlier this month.

"The main issue with this whole category is that the user just doesn't know what they're taking or the strength of what they're taking, and literally they are the guinea pigs," Hall said. "We're referring to these as the guinea pig drugs. Often the dealer might not even know what they're selling."