Flakka, a highly potent and potentially dangerous synthetic drug is used by nearly 1 percent of high school seniors, according to a study by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR).
The study, published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, is the first to estimate the prevalence of Flakka use among adolescents in the United States.
Synthetic cathinones--psychoactive substances known as "bath salts"--have been associated with tens of thousands of emergency department visits in the United States.
"Flakka is infamous for being tied to rashes of bizarre behavior which has led the media to refer to it as the 'zombie' or 'cannibal' drug," said CDUHR researcher Joseph Palamar, PhD, MPH, the study's lead author and an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health. "Flakka has not turned users into cannibals, but the drug can in fact be very dangerous." He further explained that this stimulant drug is very potent and chronic use has led to death from heart attacks, accidents, suicides, and homicides.
Because few studies have looked at Flakka use, Palamar and his colleagues sought to understand how prevalent use is among adolescents. The researchers analyzed data from the 2016/2017 Monitoring the Future study, which surveyed a national sample of 3,786 high school seniors across the U.S.
Overall, 0.8 percent of high school seniors in 2016-2017 reported using Flakka in the past year. Students who do not live with their parents and students whose parents have less than a high school education were at higher odds for use.
Notably, Flakka users reported using other drugs, particularly Spice/K2 (synthetic cannabinoids)(85.6 percent), ketamine (72.3 percent), and marijuana (59.1 percent). Flakka use was associated with using a higher number of other drugs and using other drugs more often, with more than half of Flakka users (51.7 percent) using four to 12 other drugs.
The authors note that Flakka use may be underreported in surveys; recent studies have found that the use of Flakka and other "bath salts" is often unintentional, as these drugs are frequently added to the party drug known as Ecstasy or Molly.
"Flakka use rarely occurs in isolation, as most users also frequently use other drugs. This suggests that the use of Flakka or other 'bath salts' alone is rare and the use of multiple substances may compound adverse effects of these drugs," said Palamar.