Dennis Wichern, special agent for the Chicago field division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, pretty much confirmed that flakka -- the synthetic street drug chemically related to the drug "bath salts" and geographically associated with Florida -- has arrived in Chicago.
Wichern told WBBM-TV, a CBS station in Chicago, that flakka is already linked to at least 10 deaths -- not surprisingly, since it's being cut with rat poison and insecticides. The DEA put flakka on an emergency list last year and made it illegal, but it's also sold online, said Wichern.
“It’s part stimulant like meth or amphetamine, part hallucinogenic like MDMA, and it has the ability to have a little bit of attributes like PCP,” Wichern told WBBM, describing the chemical stew whose street name is also "gravel" and "$5 insanity."
“It’s causing big issues for us,” he said.
Flakka is coming primarily from China, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Ralph Piccirilli told WBBM, and it's being seized at O'Hare International Airport, often hidden inside pool filter boxes.
A New Lenox, Illinois, man, Mike Haney, 24, claims he unknowingly took flakka and experienced the extreme psychosis for which the methamphetamine-like drug is known. He told WBBM that after taking flakka, he blacked out, ran around his neighborhood naked and didn't come to for days after he was arrested.
“I went to jail and I don’t remember anything until my third day in jail. I was completely out of my mind,” Haney told the station. Haney also said that flakka dealers in Chicago, like many drug dealers everywhere, often give it away to get first-time users addicted.
Like "bath salts," flakka can cause users to become dangerously overheated, which prompts many to disrobe. It can also produce a kind of superhuman strength, sometimes requiring multiple people to subdue someone under its influence. Flakka can cause hallucinations, delusions of being chased, and in some cases, the user can die of a heart attack or kidney or liver failure.
Counties in Florida hardest hit by flakka are rallying their communities to help combat the drug that is causing daily mayhem in emergency rooms and on the streets. Leaders in Broward County hope that educating about the dangers of flakka and training law enforcement and medical providers in the "best practices" treatment of people high on flakka might help stem the tide. They also plan on community outreach to the homeless population, which is disproportionately affected by flakka.
“I could have killed somebody,” Haney told WBBM of his flakka episode. “I could have killed myself. I have no recollection of anything. It was the scariest thing I’d ever been through.”