Live 5 Investigates: Flakka in Colleton County

The drug may be white, pink, gray or blue, authorities say. (Photo Source: Colleton Co. Sheriff's Office)
The drug may be white, pink, gray or blue, authorities say. (Photo Source: Colleton Co. Sheriff's Office)

COLLETON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A drug that causes people to hallucinate, have uncontrollable actions, and super human-like strength has made its way into the Lowcountry.

It's called Flakka. The Colleton County Sheriff's Office was notified about the drug months ago, and now are able to discuss the case, in limited detail.

A Flakka high seems to give a user super human strength, kind of like "The Incredible Hulk."

"It's effects are just out of this world in a bad way," said Sheriff R.A. Strickland, of the Colleton County Sheriff's Office.

At the end of August, the Colleton County Sheriff's Office was tipped off by the DEA, or Drug Enforcement Administration, that Flakka was in Walterboro.

"We tested it in a lab, and it tested positive for Flakka," said Sergeant Ed Marcurella, with the Narcotics Unit at the Sheriff's Office.

Pictures of what the narcotics team uncovered in a Walterboro home show one kilo, or 2.2 pounds of Flakka. The Sheriff's Office won't go into detail until they've tracked the source of the drug, but said arrests have been made and charges are filed.

"We were amazed," Strickland said. "Again it was only one case in Colleton County. It appears to be isolated. It's the only case that we've known that's actually been made in the Lowcountry."

The Flakka the team uncovered was white, but the DEA say it can also be pink, gray, or blue. It also tends to appear in rock-like clumps.

An MUSC doctor said even a pinch of one of these rocks is extremely dangerous.

"You don't know where the mind is of that person who is intoxicated on Flakka," said Dr. Viktoriya Magid, Ph.D., Psychologist at MUSC in the Center for Drug and Alcohol Problems.

Magid is in charge of teen services at the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs at MUSC. It's her job to warn parents about the latest drug trends. She's worried about Flakka.

"Some studies would say that it's 10 to 15 times more potent than cocaine and meth, which is just really hard to imagine," Magid said. "We can only guess what that will do to the brain."

It's also known as "gravel," "$5 Insanity," or even "the zombie drug."

The DEA says it's similar to bath salts and primarily made out of the Catha plant grown in Asia and Africa.

"It's not like any other drug," Strickland said. "When you're putting this in your body, you never know what you're going to get."

Like the story out of Spartanburg County of the couple who say they saw possums and people jumping out of their fridge and microwave, there are hundreds more like that case, from car crashes to breaking and entering.

It's a killer as well, contributing to at least 40 deaths last year.

The youngest this year, a baby boy born 10 weeks early with Flakka in his sytem. He only lived one hour.

"The jury is still out on the long term affects, but I would say why gamble," Magid said. "Google and look at those videos."

The most cases have been reported in Broward County, Florida. Now it's moving across the nation through Georgia, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and now in South Carolina.

"When I was reading the reports about Florida I knew back then it was a matter of time," Magid said. "That's what prompted me to go and educate myself about this new drug. We have to stay on our toes."

A report from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System shows there were 3,905 cases reported last year, ranking sixth behind the top synthetic drug Methamphetamine.

The federal government has a temporary ban on Flakka through 2016, but experts say designer labs are always a step ahead of the law.

"Unfortunately I predict that another synthetic drug is going to come on board within the next year or two," Magid said.

"Most states, including South Carolina, over 45 states, have very strong synthetic drug laws to help keep up with the drug traffickers who will just change
a couple chemical compounds thinking that will make the drug legal," said Supervisory Special Agent Chris Oksala, with the DEA Charleston base.

Law enforcement said the hardest part is monitoring where the drug is coming from. What makes tracking this drug especially challenging, the DEA said it can be bought online, and shipped right to your doorstep.

"It's caught primarily either by postal inspectors or by custom and border protection agents who go through and screen mail as it comes into the country," Oksala said. "Those are sort of the two ways we'll initiate a case."

The DEA will also initiate a case at the request of local law enforcement.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing of all, Flakka can be smoked, injected, snorted, or even eaten.

"If you see someone and they appear to be irrational, irate... they may be taking clothes off because their temperature is so hot, or they're talking out of their mind, or acting somewhat 'zombie-like' for lack of a better word, they need to contact 911," Marcurella said.

"It's a very cheap high, it's a very quick fix, and it leads to a level where they cannot control what their body does," Strickland said.

The goal now is education and prevention, Magid said.

Strickland said his deputies have received information and training about this drug and how to approach someone on it. Tri-County sheriff's offices along with Williamburg, Georgetown, and Orangeburg Counties also said they are in the works of preparing in case the drug pops up in their area.

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