New, cheap, highly-addictive drug grows in popularity

Newest evolution in bath salts, flakka, can be deadly

SAN ANTONIO – A new drug that is cheap, highly addictive and very dangerous is hitting the streets and it has police agencies cracking down.

The trend first came to light in 2013, and now there's growing concern over the number of young people getting hooked.

The dangerous drug called flakka that's growing in popularity causes violent overdoses and bizarre behavior.

"The people that normally smoke crack don't want crack. This is the new crack. This is what's going to stop crack," said Kat, who asked to remain anonymous.

Kat talked about the drug that landed him in detox, with uncontrollable shaking and cold sweats. He said he knows the drug could have killed him.

On the streets it's called flakka. Whether it's smoked or vaped, it is the newest evolution in bath salts. Even paramedics who've seen it all said the drug is scary.

The calls come into dispatchers as people having trouble breathing, chest pains and patients seem mentally unstable.

"The real danger in flakka is you don't know what you're really getting," said psychiatrist Daniel Bober. "There is no consistency, no reliability, and so you may get something that could be deadly."

Flakka comes from the khat plant that's grown in East Africa and Arabia. The plant produces cathinode, an amphetamine that gives patients an immediate high.

Similar forms of khat have been reported entering Southeast Texas in 2013. The drug is available over the Internet and usually is shipped to the U.S. through China.

The ingredients are constantly changing, making it hard for law enforcement to prosecute dealers, and even harder for doctors to treat its users.

"There is no telling what everyone is putting in it," said paramedic Mathew Schaefer. "Putting a bunch of different chemicals (in), you don't know how to combat it. The reactions are different with everybody, yet they still do it."

Flakka is cheap and easy to find on the streets. It's mostly used by young men. The high can be nonstop, lasting for weeks.

"I've seen people smoke too much they start spazzing out, their heart is beating too fast," Kat said. "They are thinking people are watching them."

"There's a lot of psychosis that goes with it," said paramedic Matthew Wells. "There's a lot of violence. They get a little aggressive with us, the cops, or with the hospital staff when we drop them off."

Kat said he is trying to break his addiction to flakka. It's not easy. Besides the shaking and sweating, he has anxiety and painful arthritis-like effects in his joints.

His message: Don't try flakka -- not even once.

"It's always going to be a temptation, its going to ruin your life, guaranteed. I lost everything anybody could," Kat said.

Law enforcement is tracking the use of these types of drugs. There have been raids at rental homes in Bellaire and Southwest Houston apartment complexes in recent years. Hundreds of pounds have been seized, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

This story courtesy our sister station in Houston, KPRC.