The new synthetic drug known as flakka is outpacing cocaine in popularity in south Florida, officials there say.
Flakka is cheaper and easier to obtain than cocaine, according to Reuters.
Cocaine has long arrived in South Florida by boat from South America. Flakka is now coming through the mail from China, the article notes.
In response to the influx of flakka, police departments in the state have begun giving officers field detection kits, using sniffer dogs at mail facilities and training patrol units to look for signs of flakka use.
The drug, also called gravel, is available for $5 a vial or less. Its main ingredient is a chemical compound called alpha-PVP.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), alpha-PVP is chemically similar to other drugs known as "bath salts," and takes the form of a white or pink crystal that can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized in an e-cigarette or similar device.
Vaporizing, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose, NIDA notes. Alpha-PVP can cause a condition called "excited delirium" that involves extreme stimulation, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury.
Flakka first appeared in Florida last year. Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, recorded 190 incidents involving the drug last year. By early May of this year, officials had recorded more than 275 incidents. "Cocaine was king, until this year," said Detective William Schwartz, a narcotics officer with the Broward County Sheriff's Office.
While officials in Houston, Chicago and parts of Ohio have also reported the appearance of the drug, south Florida remains the hotbed of flakka use. "We are ground central," said Robert C. Hutchinson, Deputy Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations in Miami. "We want to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control."