I recently interviewed Dean – the first documented flakka addict in the US. It has been more than a year since he was treated for his flakka addiction at the Cove Centre for Recovery, a behavioural health treatment centre. I wanted to see how, or if Dean recovered from his severe flakka addiction.
What is Flakka?
Flakka is a dangerous synthetic drug in the bath salts family that can lead to a wide range of extreme symptoms including ‘excited delirium’, where users have boundless energy and strength and exhibit bizarre behaviour. Flakka can trigger terrible hallucinations, paranoia and even psychosis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), you can snort, eat, inject or even vape flakka.
Flakka first surfaced in Fort Lauderdale, Florida a few years ago and slowly spread to other parts of the US. Flakka wreaked havoc and caused users to do all sorts of crazy things like commit lewd public acts, break down a hurricane proof door at a police station, and violently attack innocent victims.
Owing to its inexpensive prices tag, flakka is also known as ‘five dollar insanity’. The drug is manufactured in China and can be easily purchased online and shipped to the US for drug trafficking purposes.
Just how dangerous is flakka?
NBC News reported that flakka abuse has been linked to over 60 fatalities in Broward County alone. Remarkably, in some cases, flakka user’s body temperature can spike up to 40°C causing extreme dehydration, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms. Long-term effects include schizophrenia, psychosis, and permanent brain damage.
Dean’s poly-substance abuse problem
Besides flakka, Dean was a heavy cocaine, crystal meth, and crack abuser. When he used flakka he smoked it with an electronic cigarette. Dean claimed that it was less dangerous than when it is injected directly into the blood stream.
When watching Dean’s initial YouTube flakka addiction interview published on July 2015 – the strides that he has made since that time have been nothing short of amazing. Dean was barely audible in the video that has been viewed over 83,000 times and counting.
On Dean’s most recent YouTube interview last November 2016, he did not mince words when talking about his addiction. He also did not have any excuses for his past conduct. What makes this interview so refreshing is Dean’s new appreciation for the little things in life since transitioning into a sober existence. One of those things, that most people take for granted, was earning back his family’s trust by being allowed to return home.
Dean’s new home
Dean is content with his new home at a South Florida sober residential facility. He is right where he belongs at this precarious stage of his life. Dean is well aware as an addict that he could slip and relapse at any moment. This is precisely why his sober home is the perfect place for him to be now.
The sober apartment facility houses his peers who are in various stages of their recovery. Dean gets along really well with them and everyone help each other get through their day to day recovery struggles. His life is so much less complicated now. Dean holds a steady job during the day and goes to NA meetings every night. And on occasion, hits the high seas, to go on fishing trips with his step dad.
An emotionally-charged interview
The interview was never heated, but at one point, Dean became frustrated when he was asked if he was proud of his recovery.
Dean shot back: ‘I hate that question. I don’t feel like I have accomplished anything. I feel like I am doing what I should have been doing all along. I don’t have any excuses.’
Dean added: ‘At the time when I was abusing drug I was making bad decisions and it came with consequences. At this point, looking back, there was no fault. There was nothing to accomplish. I was just being stupid.’
Excerpts from the interview
DR: So Dean how is it going?
Dean: I can’t complain. Life has been good. I have tripped and fell a couple of times on this recovery path, but by the grace of God I recently surpassed one year of recovery.
DR: Besides flakka what other drugs were you using before your recovery?
Dean: Pretty much any kind of stimulants that I could find. I loved cocaine, crystal meth, and flakka. Whatever was around. I just wasn’t ready to change or stop doing what I was doing.
DR: So what was the turning point in your recovery?
Dean: I can’t pinpoint just how I was able to recover. Life just gets a little better, and a little better over time. The more clean time I put together and the more work I did on myself, my perspective on things changed. All the pieces just started falling back into place and I am just happier this way.
DR: Can you describe your time after your relapse from treatment?
Dean: I was literally high everyday for six months straight. It didn’t matter what drug I used. I was at the point at which I used whatever I could get my hands on.
DR: What have you been doing during your one year recovery?
Dean: I have been working a lot and working with my sponsor. I have worked on my 12 steps. I now have people I sponsor too. I attend meetings regularly. I stay plugged into the fellowship. I stay close with my support group. But I just live life like a regular person. I still do all the same things that I used to do. The only difference now is that I don’t feel the need to pick up a drink or a drug to have a good time. You know, the obsession is gone.
DR: Have you become more religious since your recovery?
Dean: I was definitely not religious before I really got into recovery. But I am still not all that religious. I have more of a spiritual understanding.
DR: Have your personal relationships with your friends and family improved since you have been sober?
Dean: Oh it is fantastic! My family talks to me again. I am allowed back into their house. I have real friends today. Instead of people I tried to manipulate or get something from. My interpersonal relationships with pretty much everyone I meet today are 100 per cent different than it was before.
DR: What are your long-term plans?
Dean: I was thinking of joining the navy in July. I am currently running a diversionary programme for some of the charges I got from the time I was abusing flakka. But upon completion I am eligible to enlist. Now I have a job. But my end goal is to try a military lifestyle for a while.
DR: Are you proud of your recovery?
Dean: I hate that question. It is not the first time I have been asked this question. I don’t feel like I accomplished anything. I really don’t. I feel like I am doing what I should have been doing. I don’t have any excuses. At the time I was abusing drugs like flakka, I was making bad decisions and it came with consequences. At this point, looking back, there was no fault. There was nothing to accomplish. I was simply being stupid.
DR: What are your views on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?
Dean: This isn’t a programme for people who need it. It’s a programme for people who want it. And I knew if I wanted to stop doing drugs for good then I should probably follow the advice and directions of the millions of other people that have done it successfully. And the only place people will find this help is in the rooms of NA and AA. Those are the only places that I know that I can find people that have been successful. I know this sounds cliche but recovery is literally a one-day-at-a-time thing.
DR: What were some of your high points during your recovery?
Dean: I think the high point came after 45 days of staying clean when I came to the realisation that every day from here on out is a new personal record.
Things look to be on the up and up for Dean who a little over one year ago was roaming the Fort Lauderdale bus terminal looking to score some flakka. It was a completely different time for Dean. It was a time when he was high for literally six months straight. And now Dean finds himself in a much better place. Rather than acting out on his addiction, he is merely talking about it past tense in one of the rooms of NA.
Dennis Relojo is the founder of Psychreg and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Psychreg Journal of Psychology. Aside from PJP, he sits on the editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals, and is a Commissioning Editor for the International Society of Critical Health Psychology. A Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society, Dennis holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Hertfordshire. His research interest lies in the intersection of psychology and blogging. You can connect with him through Twitter @DennisRelojo and his website.