South Florida officials are trying to stem the flood of flakka into Broward County after a rash of unusual incidents related to the synthetic drug in recent months.
Community leaders and health officials held a educational community forum at the Urban League of Broward Wednesday to discuss the dangers of the cheap synthetic that Broward Sheriff Scott Israel is calling "the $5 insanity drug."
Officials say flakka, also known as gravel, is a more potent form of bath salts that is highly addictive and can be deadly if taken in high doses.
"In small doses it causes euphoria, a good feeling," said Dr. Sabil Sanadi, president and CEO of Broward Health. "A little bit extra, a couple more granules of the drug would actually kill someone, it could cause their muscles to break down, it could have them have a stroke, their heart could stop."
What makes the drug even more troubling is how inexpensive and easy to obtain it can be, officials warn. It can be smoked, snorted, injected or swallowed.
"It's available to people who don't have any money. Unlike drugs that came before it, it's not expensive," Sheriff Israel said.
"It's so dangerous because it's so inexpensive, so readily available, kids want to experiment with it," Sanadi said. "It actually could cause death, it's very very dangerous."
Israel said incidents involving flakka have been increasing.
"In 2013 we had zero cases of flakka reported or investigated. In 2014 we investigated over 190 cases. And so far this year we have had 250 cases," he said.
On Wednesday alone, three men went before Broward Judge John Hurley for possession of flakka.
Dr. John Cunha -- a Holy Cross ER doctor -- saw two cases of flakka overdose this past weekend. Short of killing you -- the most dangerous effects -- render a state of excited delirium. He said people seem to go out of their minds.
"It seems to be like cocaine, crack almost like PCP where people are freaking out in overdoses," Dr. Cunha said.
The drug has been tied to a number of recent bizarre incidents in South Florida and the rest of the state.
"They have the strength of 10 people, they think they're being chased by dogs, they strip off their clothes, they run naked in traffic," Sheriff Israel said.
James West, a 50-year-old homeless man, was caught on surveillance video in February trying to kick in the heavy glass front door of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, finally cracking it with large rocks. Bleeding above one eye, West told officers that he was desperate for help from police because "he was being chased by 20-25 individuals and he didn't know why." He later told police he had smoked flakka.
In March, Shanard Neely got impaled through the buttocks on the department's 10-foot-high security fence while trying to climb over, convinced he was being pursued and that "he needed to go to jail or they would kill him," police said. Neely, 37, also told officers he had smoked flakka. It took hours for rescuers to cut him down.
Last month, a Qushanna Doby was charged with child neglect after authorities say she smoked flakka and lost her 1-year-old daughter in Boynton Beach. Earlier in the month, a three-day drug bender that included flakka and molly ended in the death of Richard Andrews in a shooting in West Park. His friend, Travis Lee, has been charged in the shooting, according to the BSO.
Matthew Thomas Kenney was also arrested last month after he was caught running through the streets of Fort Lauderdale in nothing but his sneakers. Police said the 34-year-old admitted to smoking flakka and said people were chasing him and trying to kill him. He said the unknown people had stolen his clothes and said he was running in the road "because if I got hit by a car they would stop chasing me," according to an arrest report.
Sheriff Israel says he hopes to eradicate flakka from Broward with his new initiative.
"We'll arrest those that are selling it and trafficking it, and I believe we'll bring a successful end to it." he said.