Supply-side approaches to drug epidemics don’t get as much credit as they once did, but they do¬†produce some notable successes. A recent example: the apparent end of the flakka epidemic in South Florida.¬†Here’s the story.

As the article notes, once the source of Florida flakka was identified as China, the DEA was able to meet with Chinese government officials to convince them to ban production. They did just that, along with more than a hundred other substances, including fentanyl. The results were startling: Flakka almost disappeared from the streets.

Why did this approach work where it fails in other situations? Two main reasons:

  • The distribution network for flakka was confined to a geographically small (if heavily populated) region, and had yet to spread far and wide. If they hadn’t acted quickly, the emerging flakka problem might well have been far more difficult to contain.
  • The Florida variety appears to have come almost entirely from a few sources overseas. Domestic production– always an issue with synthetics– wasn’t yet a factor. If it had been, sources inside the USA could easily have ramped up to take the place of foreign dope. It’s mostly a matter of procuring the raw materials and setting up ‘bathtub’ lab facilities in less populated areas. Methamphetamine can serve as a model.

The changes made by China didn’t materially affect the fentanyl problem, however, because China wasn’t the main source of that drug in Florida.

A few notes about flakka: It’s a synthetic cathinone with the choke-on-it name of alpha- pyrrolidinopentiophenone, thankfully abbreviated to alpha-PVP. Like others of that ilk, it’s believed to act as a psychostimulant by inhibiting the re-uptake of dopamine and norepinephrine. Flakka appears to be stronger than its relatives, which may be why it produces the agitated state known in the trade as ‘excited delirium’ — deranged, often violent behavior that quickly shows up as the lead video on the evening news. That’ll draw the attention of authorities.

When it comes to drug epidemics, sealing the borders is a limited strategy at best. As is sometimes said: “Build a ten foot wall, and they’ll use an eleven foot ladder.”

And once the demand is there, you’d still have to deal with proliferating internal sources.