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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

‘Zombie drug’ flakka to be banned by UAE authorities

Law enforcement officials have taken the first step toward ensuring flakka and another synthetic drug, cathinone, are treated the same as other narcotics, carrying jail terms for possession and trafficking.

A paramedic takes the temperature of man suspected of being under the influence of flakka at Pompano Beach, Florida. Police officers surround the suspect in case he becomes violent. Joe Raedle / Getty Images
A paramedic takes the temperature of man suspected of being under the influence of flakka at Pompano Beach, Florida. Police officers surround the suspect in case he becomes violent. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

DUBAI // A narcotic dubbed the “zombie drug” for sending users into psychotic outbursts is one of two that are set to be banned.

The UAE has moved to ensure flakka and another synthetic drug, cathinone, are treated like other narcotics, with penalties for possession and trafficking.

The drugs are not exactly legal but are not on the list of banned substances, and police stress it has not been found in the UAE .

Flakka made headlines around the world when it was linked to two rampages in Florida in which users chewed on victims’ faces.

The FBI later ruled that other drugs were to blame, but flakka was linked to 63 deaths in Fort Lauderdale within 16 months.

After advice from Dubai Police, the Ministry of Health’s higher narcotic drug review committee recommended that flakka and cathinone be added to mind-altering, illegal substances banned under federal drug laws.

Anyone caught using flakka or cathinone could face at least two years in prison. For those found guilty of trafficking these substances, a judge could impose the death sentence.

Col Eid Hareb, director general of the anti-narcotics department, said the move was a pre-emptive measure.

“We have not had any flakka cases or what they call ‘zombie cases’ here in Dubai or in the UAE, but we do not want it to come here,” Col Harib said. “We don’t want people to use this drug, that is why we put it on the list.”

Flakka and cathinone can cause “excited delirium”, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the US.

“Some people lose their memories, they can hallucinate, they can get paranoid, nervous – they get to a point where they cannot control themselves and they become more dangerous toward other people,” said Col Hareb.

The drug’s dominant chemical is alpha-PVP, which “an cause a condition called ‘excited delirium’ that involves hyperstimulation, paranoia and hallucinations that can lead to violent aggression and self-injury”, the US institute said.

“The drug has been linked to deaths by suicide and heart attack. It can also dangerously raise body temperature and lead to kidney damage or kidney failure.”

The synthetic cathinone drug is commonly referred to as “bath salts,” because of its appearance.

It “takes the form of a white or pink, foul-smelling crystal that can be eaten, snorted, injected or vaporised in an e-cigarette or similar device,” the institute said.

“Vaporising, which sends the drug very quickly into the bloodstream, may make it particularly easy to overdose.”

Dr Amin Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary for the Ministry’s public health policy and licensing division and chairman of the narcotic drug review committee, said the law needed to keep up with such new challenges.

“It is something new in the world,” Dr Al Amiri said. “We are adding it after making sure it belongs in the law.”

rpennington@thenational.ae