'FLAKKA zombies' have sparked fears of a new nationwide drugs epidemic after the first UK death from a new deadly narcotic which can make users gouge out their eyeballs.
Andrea Horvathova, 23, died from a lethal cocktail of substances which included the man-made psycho-stimulant 'Flakka'.
The new import from the US, which has been linked to a string of deaths worldwide, has also been found in several other British towns - with almost 1,000 cases reported last year in Stoke alone.
The Sun Online visited Andrea's hometown of Plymouth, where locals spoke of terrifying 'zombie-like' drug users stalking parts of the genteel town's West End.
Helen, one of the council’s civic enforcement officers, sees the problem every day on her street parking beat.
“They’re everywhere,” she said.
“It is like zombie town round here some days.“You can literally see them walking around, eyes closed, arms stretched out in front of them.
“It’s hard to be sure whether it’s the drink or the drugs but it’s probably both.”
TERRIFYING SIDE EFFECTS
Flakka first arrived on Britain’s streets a few years ago after it was linked to a wave of cannibalistic violent attacks abroad, including in the US and Brazil.
Globally Flakka has become prized for producing a sense of euphoria and sharpened senses.
Yet side effects can cause terrifying outbursts of violent paranoia and wild hallucinations.
It looks like household bath salts and can be eaten, snorted, injected or vaped.
On Plymouth’s central precincts those who live on the streets suspect it is now being used in drug and alcohol cocktails.
Jay Weston, a 40-year-old homeless man who has served time in prison, told The Sun Online that Flakka is one among many psycho-stimulants which are attractive "because they are so cheap".
He added: "Some of the kids have absolutely no idea of the strength of what they’re taking.
"You see them in the city centre, especially at weekends, walking around like zombies.
"Flakka may be new but it isn’t difficult to obtain. You can easily buy speed-type drugs like that on the internet."
The £2.30 synthetic Class B drug is an off-white powder that can be swallowed, injected or snorted.
Jay said "Xannies" - the prescription drug Xanex used to counter anxiety attacks – was commonly taken by users to ‘knock themselves out’.
"But some kids will mix all and any of these pills with alcohol just to see what happens," he added.
"Drink, painkillers, speed-type drugs – it’s a dangerous mix."
He believes the ban on smoking in prisons has increased the market for psycho-stimulants generally.
"Prisoners sought other ways to help cope with their lives and these drugs fitted the bill," he said.
"It started with spice – now these other new substances are coming through and the market is expanding outside prison."
An inquest held into Andrea's death last month heard how the cocktail of drugs she took in March 2018 would have likely resulted in a heart attack,Plymouth Live reported.
Andrea was found unconscious in the early hours of March, 4 2018, and died in hospital three days later.
The inquest heard she had taken a number of drugs that night, but at some point was offered an unidentified pill by a man, which she took.
Recently there was a man in here, clearly out of it. He just got more and more aggressive. I feel I can handle myself but you worry at what could happen when people have no idea what they are doing because they’re so drugged up.
Shop keeper Carla Southwuld
The toxicology report found traces of Flakka as well as amphetamine, Ecstasy and cocaine.
The sad death of Andrea isn’t the first time Flakka has emerged in Plymouth.
Aaron Hobbs, 21, who works in his family’s second-hand store said: "Right now, all over Facebook, people are talking about this Flakka as the new zombie drug that has come to Plymouth.
"But that name has come up before. I saw it mentioned about eight months ago."
Down in Colin Campbell Court, a square just off the West End precinct fringed by run-down flats, shopkeepers say the behaviour of drug-addled people is becoming more extreme.
"Who knows whether it is this new drug that’s responsible," said Carla Southwuld, a 53-year-old assistant at an indoor market.
"Recently there was a man in here, clearly out of it. He just got more and more aggressive.
"I feel I can handle myself but you worry at what could happen when people have no idea what they are doing because they’re so drugged up.
"For people trying to run businesses it is a real problem."
Between 2016 and 2018, 166 people died in Plymouth from drug misuse, according to the Office of National Statistics.
It is the highest figure since records began in 2001.
That number increased by almost two-thirds from the 64 total deaths between 2013 and 2015.
Plymouth alone saw 14.4 deaths due to drug poisoning per 100,000 compared to 6.7 deaths in England.
There were 4,359 deaths due to drug poisoning in 2018 across England and Wales – and two-thirds of those deaths were due to drug misuse.
The deaths have been linked to heroin, morphine cocaine, ecstasy, “legal highs”, and prescription drugs.
And deaths related to “legal highs” doubled from 61 to 125 from 2017 to 2018, and 60 were attributed to the synthetic drug Spice – a jump from 24 in the previous year.
Experts now fear the UK is has a full-blown Flakka epidemic on the horizon.
Drug expert Abbas Kanani previously told The Sun Online: "Flakka appears to be gaining popularity in the UK due to its low price at £2.30-a-hit - it's extremely worrying.
"In 2018 there were 950 cases reported of paramedics finding users in a zombie like state.
"Gangs are now trying to bring this product in, and there have been reports of a growing number of users of this drug."
And while the NCA are yet to release nationwide statistics, in a three-month period last year, there were over 950 Flakka cases reported in the town of Stoke-on-Trent.
What is Flakka?
Flakka is an alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PDP) drug, a new version of bath salts.
Usually made in China, Flakka is said to give users a feeling of euphoria and a heightened sense of awareness.
The drug can give users an appearance of having super strength while also significantly heating up body temperature to more than 41 degrees.
Other complications include elevated blood pressure as well as potentially causing a stroke or heart attack.
The synthetic drug be horrifically dangerous and addictive for users.
Forensic toxicologists have said the drug is a mix between potent hallucinogens like LSD and simulants like ice.
The drug is banned in the United Kingdom, as well as in other countries including France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden.
James Luter, 36, who manages a convenience store in West End, says drugged and drunken customers have threatened him with extreme violence and racially abused his staff.
"Them being drunk is one thing," he said. "But they’re often high as kites.
"Who knows what drug they’re taking. If it’s out there then they’re going to try it aren’t they?"
"All the staff are Indians and they get appalling racial abuse. I’ve had one drugged-up guy threaten to shoot me for refusing to sell him alcohol."
Shane Doncaster, 61, who lives in Colin Campbell Court, says a nearby alleyway has become notorious for drug dealing.
"Since the council took away a CCTV camera it has got worse," he said. "Dealers know they’re not being watched."
The horrific nature of Flakka first emerged in Miami, Florida five years ago.
State police shot dead a user who had chewed off part of a homeless man’s face. Later, in another appalling case, they arrested a woman who had cut out her mother’s eyes during a drug-fuelled murder.
In2016, anaked British tourist was arrestedafter running through San Antonio behaving aggressively after taking flakka, while inSeptember last year, a video showing prisoners biting the head off a live mouse while high on the drug caused outrage.
A Brazilian medical student who is believed to have taken Flakka was rushed to hospital last year after gouging his eyes out and trying to chop off his penisin the street after breaking up with his girlfriend.
In Florida, there were at least 80 Flakka-related deaths in 2015 alone.
Global statistics for Flakka-related deaths are unclear, but people have been arrested after taking Flakka in the US, Brazil and Australia.
Trying to pin down the extent of Flakka use in the UK is like boxing the wind. Devon and Cornwall Police sources say they have so far come across it only in the Andrea Horvathova case.
But the reality is that without blood samples it is impossible to know for sure how widespread Flakka use has become.
Officially known as alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone, or alpha-PDP, it is chemically similar to amphetamines and falls into the cathinone class of drugs.
Police drug liaison officers working with public health officials concede that it is unlikely to be classed separately in statistics and may be recorded simply as a ‘cathinone’.
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Back in the West End Jay Weston is just glad it has passed him by.
"I’ve taken heroin and cocaine in the past," he said. "I live on the streets now if I can’t find a friend to put me up for the night.
"You see the effect of these new drugs every day. They’re so unpredictable. People have no idea what they’re taking"
Video montage shows the horrifying effects of street drug Flakka