A new drug is making its way across the United States, but it’s been around for over half a century. Arrest records from this summer show the drug is moving closer to Harlan County.
Alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone is known by a few names. Users call the drug alpha-pvp, gravel and flakka — depending on the part of the country they live. According to Google trends, web searches for the drug began abruptly in September 2011 and have steadily increased.
The Drug Enforcement Agency officially banned the substance in early 2014 and say about 22 percent of seizures in the U.S. come from South Florida. The DEA website says in 2010 there were 699 samples confiscated. In 2013, 16,500 samples were confiscated and tested — a 2,360 percent increase.
The drug was created in the 1960’s and is very similar to the psychoactive component in bath salts according to www.drugpolicy.org. The site also says the substance contains a pyrrolidine ring in its chemical makeup which causes the euphoric high users describe. The ring effectively blocks the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine while affecting the serotonin transporter as well. This means cells can’t metabolize the dopamine and norepinephrine released in the blood stream, so the euphoric high lasts a long time. The ring’s side effects include paranoia, anxiety and hallucinations.
The site goes on to explain the reason for the erratic behavior of users and alarming number of overdose deaths from the substance in the U.S. The first dose will usually provide the euphoric high, but a second dose less than one hour after the first will cause an overdose according to the site. It says users who overdose will rise in temperature first — up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Users will then strip off their clothes in most cases just before the body triggers a fight-or-flight reaction in the user that police have dubbed “excited delirium syndrome.”
Livescience.com says the drug is a synthetic cathinone. Cathinones are derived from a substance in Somalia and the Middle East called “khat.” Livescience says the drug first became popular in south Florida and has been spreading from there. In July police confiscated close to two pounds of gravel in Lewis County, Kentucky which is located in the northeastern part of the state on the West Virginia and Ohio borders. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy said only 2 percent of submissions to the forensic lab were gravel in 2014 and there hasn’t been any uptick this year.
Local officers here in Harlan County say they haven’t come across the drug yet, but in August a Harlan County man, Arnold Fee Jr. was arrested in Sullivan County, Tennessee along with others and charged with possession of the substance. Sullivan County is about 50 miles from Middlesboro, Kentucky and lies in the northeastern corner of Tennessee, which is extremely close to the Tri-State area.
Since those two incidents over the summer there haven’t been any other arrests made in the region involving the drug.
In Tennessee the matter is much worse. Newspapers from Knoxville, Kingsport and various other places across the state have reported on arrests made involving the drug.
Reach Bradley at 606-909-4146 or on Twitter @bradley_HDE