Chris, a 26-year-old recovering South Florida flakka addict, was a guest on the Ask Dr. Nandi daytime national lifestyle show today. He was accompanied by Karen-Corcoran-Walsh, owner and founder of the Cove Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center.
Chris was successfully treated for his flakka addiction during his stay at the Cove. He is now back in Miami working hard full-time in his family business. Chris is one of the nation’s first documented flakka addicts to successfully recover from the dangerous street drug that is especially popular in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Flakka is considered to be one of the most harmful designer drugs. The chemical name for flakka is Alpha-PVP. Flakka is a man-made synthetic drug shipped over from China.
It can create powerful hallucinations, hyper-stimulation, paranoia, violent aggression and self-injury. A flakka users’ body temperatures can rise to critically severe temperatures and can lead to kidney damage and failure. Heart attacks and suicides can also occur.
Dr. Nandi, host of the Ask Dr. Nandi show interviewed Chris as well as Karen about flakka. When Chris was just 12-years-old he joined his older friends in smoking pot. At age 14 he started selling it. Chris tried ecstasy at age 15 and cocaine at 16 followed by heroin and prescription pills at 17.
Chris comes from an educated middle class family. He was offered a college basketball scholarship, but turned it down. A regret he lives with today. Chris made several attempts to come clean. During a stay in a half-way house he was introduced to flakka.
Dr. Nandi: Tell me why you decided to try flakka?
Chris: I was clean for a bit and at the halfway house and outside of the house there were a few people that I was familiar with and they were using flakka. I heard about it but never experimented with it and I have a history with addiction. Also the price is cheap.
Dr. Nandi: How inexpensive is flakka?
Chris: For five dollars you can get an amount that will get you higher than I felt on $30 worth of cocaine coupled with two hits of ecstasy. I heard that flakka does not show up on a regular drug panel test because it is synthetically made. So the addict in me thought maybe I can try this and get away with it and still be clean in my half-way house and try to still keep going with my clean time, but it didn’t work out that way.
Dr. Nandi: How did flakka make you feel?
Chris: It feels like a combination of ecstasy mixed with cocaine. Some people might describe it more like meth. I never tried meth but heard it has similar effects.
Dr. Nandi: Do you feel like you can conquer the world?
Chris: It does give you that sense of Superman feeling. I walked for miles and miles one time after using flakka and the next day my legs and feet were swollen and I was dehydrated. I think I lost 10 pounds in a span of 48 hours.
Dr. Nandi: I understand one of the times you were using flakka you had a moment of clarity. What was that moment of clarity and how did it turn your life around?
Chris: Actually, it was during a time when I was on a 48-hour drug binge. So I was using flakka with a couple of friends and at this point I was also on heroin, roxies (roxycontin) and I was drinking to counteract the high and the low.
We ended up finding someone who wanted to use flakka with us and he invited us back to their house. When we got to the house the doors had been broken in by probably the police. There was no power or utilities. The back pool did not have water, but it was filled with beer cans.
There was garbage all over the house. Mattresses flipped over. Empty baggies and syringes on the ground. And I took everything in and thought to myself that this is not my future. Especially with what I learned in recovery at the Cove. If it wasn’t for the things I learned there, I probably would have not made it out.
Dr. Nandi: Congratulations for that because a lot of people would have stayed in that environment. You took those tools and made adjustments in your life. Now tell me about your mom and tell me how she changed your life?
Chris: My mom is my rock. She played both mother and father to me my entire life. I kind of hid things from her growing up. As I got progressively worse we lost connection.
It was Mother’s Day when I had been on a flakka drug run for a while and I decided to come home to see her. She said it was the best Mother’s Day’ gift she ever had. I told her that I needed to go to treatment and that my addiction had taken over me. And usually a parent might be upset with their child and not understand why they can’t stop abusing drugs. But she understood. She drove me to my first in-patient treatment center and that was the best decision that I ever made.
Dr Nandi: Karen why do some people become addicted to drugs and others do not?
Karen Corcoran-Walsh: It is a combination of genetics, behavior and environment. It is very difficult to predict who will use drugs and become addicted and who will walk away and not become addicted, but it is important to think about what is going on in each person’s life and to pay attention to the signs and symptoms before addiction occurs. Drug use turns to drug abuse and that becomes addiction. So preventing the addiction from occurring is a huge factor.
It is very difficult to predict who will use drugs and become addicted and who will walk away and not become addicted, but it is important to think about what is going on in each person’s life and to pay attention to the signs and symptoms before addiction occurs.
Dr. Nandi: Tell me about flakka and why people are using this?
KCW: Well many young kids are using flakka because it is so cheap. Some drug dealers give it away for free in hope that people become addicted and start becoming regular customers, It is also readily available and attractive to the risk takers. Children are often risky in their behaviors. It is new. They like things that are trendy and they are attracted to it.
Dr. Nandi: And it is not scary to them is it?
KCW: No it is not.
Dr. Nandi: How did you treat Chris at the Cove Center? Obviously you were very successful. What did you guys do?
KCW: Well when Chris was first admitted into the Cove, we researched his medical history and gave him a physical. We had to look at the reasons why Chris was chronically relapsing and when we looked into his drug abuse history, it was evident that we both needed to examine his behaviors differently.
It was important for him to self-examine what was going on in his life when he wasn’t craving to get high? What was he doing when he didn’t have the urges to go out and use? We started using a multi-disciplinary approach which included Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to analyze what was actually going on with Chris in his life.
Dr. Nandi: You said that you wanted to know what he was like when he is not high. Can you tell me why that is so important?
KCW: It’s important because when someone is struggling with addiction, they often focus on the times when they were craving and the times when they were high. We need to help them think about their moments of success and what was going on at that time? What was surrounding them? How did they feel then? We used his self-discovery of the positive aspects of his past as a strength-building opportunity.
Dr. Nandi: Chris, what things did you take away from the Cove to help you in your recovery.
Chris: One thing that definitely helped was the relapse prevention plan that we worked on. They helped me deal with my own problems that caused my own addiction in the first place, such as anxiety and depression and dealing with certain situations in the proper way instead of using drugs to cope or to numb the feeling of it.
Dr. Nandi: What can other parents like myself need to know to prevent our teens from going down the wrong path?
Chris: Honestly, educate them. In my school we never really had someone come in and show us the damage that drugs can do to your life. If you walked me through let’s say a jail when I was younger and said to me see how drugs and alcohol could get you to this place that would probably scare me straight.
Dr. Nandi: People tend to label folks like Chris who have had addictions in their life. Unlike a diabetic or heart disease patient. People do not recognize that there are factors that are genetic. Can he solve this problem? Absolutely. But we have to support him and understand that this is a disease. We all have genetic problems that make us more at risk to have a disease and this is not anything different than another disease.