What is Flakka? The drug rumoured to be behind Gold Coast overdoses

FLEEING from imaginary gunmen, jumping in front of moving traffic, bouncing off balconies, diving through glass windows, stripping naked, writhing on the ground, screaching, and in some extreme cases, resorting to cannibalism.

These are some of the known effects of ‘flakka’ – the drug rumoured to be behind a series of overdoses on the Gold Coast where, in a space of 36 hours, 16 people aged between 18 and 26 were rushed to hospital.

They were found suffering from severe hallucinogenic episodes – similar to those induced by the deadly new designer drug ‘flakka’, recently dubbed the “scariest drug in America”.


Patients were found “severely hallucinating”, some in canals, others panicking, running through traffic, babbling incoherently and suffering from seizures.

RELATED: Suspected mass ‘flakka’ overdose lands 16 in Gold Coast hospital

Paramedics said one person had stopped breathing outside a hotel in Surfers Paradise. He had to be intubated at the scene and is now in an induced coma. Two others are in a serious condition.

According to the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF), there have been “some reports of ‘flakka’ use in Australia, but there is no evidence that this use is widespread”.

Investigators are waiting for toxicology reports to come back to see whether the same drug is responsible for the 16 overdoses on the Gold Coast.


‘Flakka’ – a New Psychoactive Substance (NPS) made from alpha-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone – is an amphetamine-like derivative of the drug cathinone with origins in the U.S. state of Florida.

Formally known as alpha-PVP or a-PVP, ‘flakka’ is a Research Chemical, meaning little-to-no research has been conducted on how it affects humans.

Other names for ‘flakka’ include ‘gravel’, ‘niff’ and ‘bath salts’.


Flakka comes in crystalline rock form that resembles gravel, or bath salts. It is thought some people are taking the drug unknowingly, with reports it is being sold as MDMA and ‘ice’, or crystal meth, in some areas.


The substance is commonly swallowed, however, it can also be smoked, injected, snorted, or vaporized.

According to the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse, vaporizing, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose.


Data from the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) show its effects can rival some of the strongest crystal meth and cocaine.

  • Bizarre, uncontrollable and erratic behaviour
  • Severe hallucinations
  • Aggression
  • Euphoria
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate and palpitations
  • Jaw clenching
  • Vomiting
  • Dilated pupils

The NIH says the drug can cause a condition called “excited delirium” that involves hyperstimulation, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury.

According to the NIH, the drug has been linked to deaths by suicide as well as heart attack. It can also dangerously raise body temperature and lead to kidney damage or kidney failure.

Given Flakka is a relatively new designer drug, its long-term effects are not yet known.


“Anecdotal reports suggest that flakka’s effects can last for 3-4 hours, but can also linger for several days,” The Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) says on its website.

“It’s very hard to know the effects of NPS, even if they’ve been taken before, as these products are constantly changing.

“Negative side-effects and overdose are more likely when NPS are taken in combination with alcohol or other drugs.”

Watch some of the videos below of Flakka users in the United States.

WARNING: Graphic content/strong language