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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Broward County, the epicenter of the dangerous designer drug Flakka, is taking charge in its fight against the designer drug.

The Broward Grand Jury is preparing to investigate the distribution, usage and effect of Flakka, the designer crystalline drug that has contributed to at least 33 Broward deaths in the past 10 months.

The Grand Jury also will look beyond just Flakka and examine the effect of all other illegal synthetic drugs now plaguing South Florida.

“The abuse of Flakka and these other synthetic drugs has become a life and death issue in our community,” said State Attorney Mike Satz, who asked the grand jury to look at the issue. “The grand jury focusing on this problem hopefully will assist the community, medical experts and law enforcement to resolve this critical problem.”

From late September 2014 to July 8, 2015, there have been 33 deaths in Broward County linked to Flakka use. Up to 20 patients are seen in hospital emergency departments for Flakka-related issues each day in Broward County.

In 2014, Broward led the nation in the number of crime lab cases for alpha-PVP, the active drug in Flakka. During 2015, 100 Broward crime lab cases for Flakka have been opened each month, according to James N. Hall, a Nova Southeastern University epidemiologist who studies substance use and drug outbreaks.

Local drug-treatment programs are overwhelmed due to the special needs for those addicted to Flakka, he said. A condition called “excited delirium” that is triggered by Flakka use is a life-threatening emergency for the user and for first responders including police, paramedics and hospital staff, according to Hall.

Excited delirium begins with an elevation of body temperature to 105 degrees or more (hyperthermia). The brain’s fight or flight syndrome unleashes adrenaline-like strength requiring several people to restrain the delusionary, paranoid person. Once restrained, medical attention is required immediately to avoid death. If the Flakka user survives, kidney failure from the hyperthermia may require dialysis treatment for years, Hall said.

The illegal drug, which closely resembles illegal bath salts, is called gravel in other parts of the country. The United Nations and the US National Institutes of Health have termed these drugs Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), indicating they are found around the world. Most are made in China, sold online and shipped anywhere by commercial delivery services.

Broward law enforcement agencies say it can often be purchased for as little as $5 a dose on the streets. It is often inserted into other illicit drugs such as cocaine. It can be injected, snorted, swallowed or smoked through e-cigarettes, which is especially harmful because the vapor sends the Flakka directly into the blood stream.

A special committee convened by the United Way of Broward County’s Commission on Substance Abuse and the Broward Addiction Recovery Center (BARC) has begun a local response to the drug problem with its Flakka Community Action Plan. Hall noted that Broward “has been among the first communities in the nation to actively respond to the rapidly expanding problem of new synthetic drugs like Flakka and fake marijuana.”

“There is now a need to gather more information for the development of further community strategies,” Hall said. “Novel Psychoactive Substances are a global problem that requires local attention.”

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