Law enforcement officials in Florida say use of the synthetic drug known as "flakka" is surging there, ABC News reports.
The drug, also called gravel, is available for $5 a vial or less, the article notes.
Officials say people are ordering small quantities of flakka through the mail. Its main ingredient is a chemical compound called alpha-PVP.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), alpha-PVP is chemically similar to other drugs known as "bath salts," and takes the form of a white or pink crystal that can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized in an e-cigarette or similar device.
Vaporizing, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose, NIDA notes. Alpha-PVP can cause a condition called "excited delirium" that involves extreme stimulation, paranoia, and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury. "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," NIDA explains on its website.
The laboratory of the Broward Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale reports 275 flakka submissions already in the first three months of 2015, compared with fewer than 200 in all of last year.
Flakka makers are continually changing the chemical makeup of the drug, and often mix it with other substances such as crack cocaine or heroin, according to Don Maines, a drug treatment counselor with the Broward Sheriff's Office. In as little as three days of use, a person's behavior can undergo striking changes, he said.
"It actually starts to rewire the brain chemistry. They have no control over their thoughts.
They can't control their actions," Maines said. "It seems to be universal that they think someone is chasing them. It's just a dangerous, dangerous drug."