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Trending Now: Flakka / Gravel / Alpha-PVP, and What You Need to Know

Stefanie Jones

You may have already noticed the flurry of alarmist articles.

A “new” drug, called “Flakka” or “gravel” in the South Florida region where most of the recent coverage is emanating from, is actually a substance whose full and proper name is alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone – alpha-PVP or a-PVP.

First of all, it’s not new.  It was originally synthesized in the 1960s, and is related to the cathinone (aka “bath salt”) class of drugs.  It has been on the market for at least a few years now, and has already caused a few deaths.  Probably the highest profile of these was Adonis Escoto, who died after last year’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami.  Even before that death, some stories (and a rational takedown) had come out about it.

Recent media coverage is trotting out claims that alpha-PVP is “stronger than” meth or cocaine and “highly addictive.”  For a substance for which there is remarkably little human use history and even less scientific research, please feel free to take these claims with a giant grain of (bath) salt. 

What we do know about alpha-PVP is that it can cause some very irrational behavior at high doses – which may explain stories about people running around naked or trying to break into police stations.  In this way it is similar to other cathinone class drugs, which in turn are similar to amphetamines.

But let’s rocket this sharply back to the real reason we’re even seeing these stories: our failed drug prohibition policy driving the creation of new synthetic drugs. 

Alpha-PVP is known as a “second generation bath salt” – second generation only possible since the “first generation” substances, like MDPV to which it is chemically similar, were made illegal in 2011.  It’s now easier for producers to change the chemical structure of a substance to something that is still legal, or dig up some obscure substance “from the vaults,” rather than take risks smuggling controlled drugs.  Even the DEA, in the official text of the “temporary” scheduling that made alpha-PVP illegal in March 2014, admits to that. 

How long can we keep going with this circus, prohibiting one drug only to see another one (or five, or seventeen) come along in its place?  Each “new” substance seems to have more risks associated with it than the last. 

Mixmag, a UK dance music and clubbing media source with a long history of turning its cynical eye toward drug use issues, has a pretty self-aware take on the whole thing:

“Could this be another blown-out-of-proportion bath salts scaremonger story, or could some tweaked-out harlequin shed chemist have created the substance that will transform us all into flesh munching rave turnips? Either way kids, stay safe and know what you're taking.”

Smart advice, but it may be tough to follow.  According to the New York DanceSafe chapter, alpha-PVP does not show up in personal use liquid reagent drug checking kits.  So even if you’re being responsible and testing any substances you intend to use, this one may not show up.

Still got questions?  To find out more about alpha-PVP, join a Twitterchat today Friday, April 10 with on-the-ground-harm reduction advocates @TerryGotham (who also wrote about the alpha-PVP phenomenon), @Ravelrie, @NYDanceSafe and @StaySafeSeattle at 1:30 p.m. Pacific / 4:30 p.m. Eastern and use #alphapvp to join the conversation.

Stefanie Jones is the nightlife community engagement manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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