Deadly. But not that deadly.
A Broward County grand jury report released Monday links 61 deaths to toxic effects of the synthetic street drug flakka in the county over the last 16 months. (The updated number is now 63.)
But the death count, culled from records provided by the Broward Medical Examiner, is a bit misleading. The ME’s report actually says the primary cause of death in those 63 cases “includes flakka.” Only seven of the autopsies named flakka — the street name for Alpha-PVP — as the sole cause of death.
Eight autopsy reports were incomplete, but in the others, the presence of flakka in the deceased’s tissue was only part of the story. There were four drownings, three hangings, six blunt force injuries, one sharp force, one “multiple gunshot wound,” one shotgun wound and one “penetrating gunshot wound to the head.” The balance of the deaths were attributed to “multiple drug” cocktails that included flakka.
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Clearly, flakka can mangle a users’ judgment — five of the deaths where Alpha-PVP was present were pronounced suicides. But attributing a multiple-gunshot homicide to the victim’s flakka abuse seems a stretch.
Grand jurors paid relatively little attention to another, much more dangerous synthetic drug that has been turning up in South Florida autopsy reports lately. In September, when my colleagues Jay Weaver and David Ovalle examined our local synthetic drug epidemic, it was apparent that fentanyl was the drug that ought to be scaring the hell out of South Florida.
Ovalle and Weaver found that variations of fentanyl, a heroin-like synthetic opioid shipped out of Mexico and China, had been the direct cause of 53 deaths in Miami-Dade County since September 2014. In Broward, fentanyl overdoses accounted for 30 deaths in a 12-month period beginning in June 2014. Yet the grand jury’s 68-page report devoted hardly more than a paragraph to fentanyl, calling it “a major potential problem in the future.” The future, I’m afraid, is already upon us.
The report does endorse Attorney General Pam Bondi’s proposed legislation to outlaw hundreds of synthetic drug compounds, including opioids like fentanyl and variations of flakka, synthetic cannabis and various club drugs.
Whether that would help stem the problem, who knows? The paradox policy makers always face is that when they manage to impede one synthetic, chemists and traffickers often come up with something worse. After the crackdown on ecstasy, Miami-Dade reported a string of deaths associated with Molly. New regulations aimed at pharmaceutical oxycodone abuse gave us flakka and fentanyl.
Before Florida tightened regulations on pain clinics, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach pill mills fueled a devastating oxy crisis back in my old home state of West Virginia, which led the nation (per capita) in fatal drug overdoses.
But a crackdown on drug abuse comes with an awful dilemma — one that Florida surely will face even if Pam Bondi can outlaw this new crop of synthetics. West Virginia still leads the nation in drug deaths. Except now the folks back home face a heroin crisis.