Fears are growing over a powerful new ‘cannibal drug’ sweeping the United States.
One in every 100 high-school seniors has already taken the potentially lethal drug called Flakka, warns new research.
Those that take Flakka are more likely to indulge in other substances – with over half using up to 12 drugs alongside it, according to the study.
Researchers from New York University and Columbia University analysed the use of the drug among teenagers aged 17 and 18.
Synthetic cathinones – known as “bath salts” – have been associated with tens of thousands of hospital visits across the USA.
One such compound, alpha-PVP, or Flakka, was linked to 80 deaths in Florida between September 2014 and December 2015.
Study Lead author Dr Joseph Palamar, of the Centre for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research, said that Flakka has become infamous across the United States.
He said: “Flakka is infamous for being tied to rashes of bizarre behaviour which has led the media to refer to it as the ‘zombie’ or ‘cannibal’ drug – it can be very dangerous.”
In 2012, Rudy Eugene, thought to be high on Flakka, chewed the face and eyeball of a homeless man in Miami, Florida.
Dr Palamar said the drug is “very potent” and that chronic use can cause death from heart attacks, accidents, suicides, and even murders.
The author and colleagues sought to understand how prevalent use is among adolescents, after noticing a gap in the studies on the drug.
Researchers analysed data from the 2016 to 2017 Monitoring the Future study, which surveyed a national sample of 3,786 high school seniors – year 12 pupils in the UK.
Overall, 0.8 per cent of high school seniors reported using Flakka in the past year – with those living away from home more likely to take it.
Flakka users reported using other drugs, with 85.6 per cent using Spice, 72.3 per cent using ketamine and 59 per cent cannabis.
And more than half of flakka users, 51.7 per cent, used four to 12 other drugs alongside it.
Flakka has cocaine-like stimulant effects and is as potent as methamphetamine – and users eat, snort, inject or even vape the drug.
It can cause side-effects like rapid heart rate, high body temperature, anxiety, seizures, agitation, aggression, hallucinations, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.
Researchers found that Flakka use if often underreported, with recent studies indicating the drug is frequently added to the party drug known as Ecstasy or ‘Molly’.
Dr Palamar added: “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.”
The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and is the first to estimate the prevalence of Flakka use among school children in the United States.
It was carried out by researchers from the NYU School of Medicine, the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at NYU College of Global Public Health, and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
By Daniel Hammond