RIP South Florida's flakka problem

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

RIP graphic flakka stories in South Florida.

Sure, you were entertaining, but you brought us a lot of terrible mayhem, and we're not sorry to see you go.


A task force combining federal, state and local resources has successfully eliminated the drug's presence from the region, according to police officials.

"I'd relate it to the chupacabra," Lt. Ozzy Tianga of the Broward County Sheriff's Office told me when asked about the current extent of flakka-related incidents in his district. "Some people say it still exists, but I haven't seen it."

The task force was formed last spring to confront the drug, which made national headlines for the bizarre and dangerous behavior it produced from users.

The breakthrough came this fall, when the Drug Enforcement Agency, one of the players in the task force, set up a trip that saw federal authorities and South Florida law enforcement officials go to China to confront officials there about the drug's presence in South Florida

In fact, Tianga said, by the time they arrived in Beijing, Chinese officials told them they'd already taken care of the problem by issuing directives to the drug labs that were manufacturing the drug to immediately cease production or face harsh consequences.

"Like any responsible party, they did their research—they had no idea about the problem," he said. "They ran their research, and reacted immediately" once they learned what was occurring.


Tianga also credited local nonprofit and church groups for bringing awareness about the drug's dangers directly to South Florida's low-income neighborhoods, where the drug was hitting hardest.

According to the Sun Sentinel, flakka-related hospital cases fell to 54 in December after averaging more than 300 a month over the summer. Admissions of flakka users to the Broward Addiciton Recovery Center fell from a high of 50 in July to six in January, the paper said, and the Broward Sheriff's Office says that after hitting  a monthly high of 120 on Oct. 1, flakka reports had fallen to 14 by Dec. 1.


Flakka is not out of America's system entirely, it seems. Media reports suggest that flakka surge was so acute that it continues to wend its way through other parts of the country. Station WFXL reported last week that in Albany, Georgia, flakka use continues to be "on the rise." They quote a local hospital official as having "seen an increasing number of patients in the Emergency Center in the past month" who've used the drug. And, police say, it's still coming from Florida. Indeed, other reports show the drug's ongoing presence in North Florida. There have been other sightings as far away as California.

But in South Florida, flakka outbreaks are nowhere to be seen.

"I haven’t seen any actual flakka excited delirum cases in two or three months in my ER," said John Cunha, an emergency-services physician at Holy Cross hospital in Broward County. Some people may think they're having reactions to flakka, he said, but tests now usually show patients to have consumed some other drug, he said.


So what drug taking is taking flakka's place? In Ft. Lauderdale, the second-largest city in South Florida, crack cocaine has grown back in as the cheap chemical escape of choice, according to Capt. Dana Swisher of the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department. But it is no more prevalent than it was before flakka came on the scene, he said.

A much more widspread problem in the area is fentanyl, a subject Fusion has recently covered, Tianga told me. It can be mass produced cheaply, and much of it is coming in from Mexico, making it harder to stem the flow, he said.


Swisher said the region's large concentration of drug rehab centers mean the region will always be dealing with substance abuse outbreaks.

"Addicts come down to Florida, their families, send them down for the weather, they think they're coming to this beautiful warm place to rehab and not have to deal with the miserableness up north," he said. "But when it comes to addiction, there's really no cure for it, so when these people fall off and relapse, we start to see problems," he said.


Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.