A new synthetic drug referred to as "instant insanity" has killed at least 10 people in just one state and caused hundreds of overdoses there, Suffolk County officials warned Wednesday.
Flakka, which looks like grains of salt, has caused irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system; body temperatures as high as 106 degrees; paranoia; and other symptoms, health officials said.
"Flakka has been referred to as 'instant insanity' with bizarre behavior, stripping off one's clothing, running around wildly, and exhibiting inordinate physical strength," the health department said online.
In Florida, where many cases have emerged, one man reportedly broke down hurricane-resistant doors to a police station because he thought someone was chasing him and he needed protection. The state is where 10 flakka users have died and 300 overdosed, authorities said.
No flakka cases were known in Suffolk, but county officials said they are beginning to consider legislation and school campaigns to fight a drug that will likely pop up on Long Island.
A Nassau County health spokeswoman said she did not have information on any flakka cases.
Available over the Internet for as little as $3, the manmade drug can be eaten, snorted, injected, or smoked. It prevents the breakdown of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which then builds up in the body and leads to loss of motor control and inhibitions.
It sits in the body longer, experts said. This causes a longer high than cocaine but more damage by lingering in the body, authorities said.
"You're getting a cocaine high and it's dirt cheap," said Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), a doctor who's a pediatric specialist and member of the county's board of health.
Flakka is similar to a group of drugs commonly known as bath salts, said Dr. Stephen Dewey, Suffolk County Board of Health member and addiction researcher at the Feinstein Institute, the research branch of North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset.
"These new syntheticscompounds can impact the brain and its development during adolescence," Dewey said. "In high doses, they can and they have killed."
Both of these drugs are amphetamine-like substances called cathinones, which are illegal in Suffolk.
There appears to be some confusion over whether flakka is legal.
An active ingredient in flakka is labeled illegal by federal officials.
But Spencer said flakka is not technically banned in by the Suffolk law because there are various versions of the drug and each would have to be tested to prove it's illegal.
The addiction to flakka can be super fast, experts said.
"Because it's a synthetic drug," Spencer said, "it's so potent that you quickly get through that recreational range and get to the dangerous range."