A Dubuque Drug Task Force official said the synthetic stimulant drug called "flakka" has arrived in the Dubuque area.

Sgt. Gary Pape said a recent drug investigation involving a substance testing positive as flakka -- the street name for a substance called alpha-PVP -- is the first instance he knows of the drug in the Dubuque area. The drug has made national headlines for causing erratic behavior among users.

"I think it's something new, and, unfortunately, I think we'll see more of it," Pape said, adding, "I'm not happy about it."

Undercover investigation

Kimberly C. Roa-Baerga, 27, of 444 Angella St., No. 5, is facing three felony charges for delivery of a schedule I controlled substance in Dubuque District Court. According to criminal complaints, the charges stemmed from undercover drug purchases by an undercover agent for the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement.

The complaints state the agent contacted Roa-Baerga on Jan. 23, March 9 and April 2 to purchase MDMA tablets, commonly known as ecstasy. However, lab tests show the drugs provided by Roa-Baerga during the first two buys were not ecstasy.

The Jan. 23 sample tested positive as flakka, and the March 9 sample did not test positive for any controlled substance. Results are pending on the third sample, according to court documents.

Pape said alpha-PVP is a stimulant drug that releases a large amount of dopamine in users, causing an intense pleasurable feeling that also can cause erratic and irrational behavior. He said that behavior can lead to users seriously injuring themselves or others.

"To me, the alarming thing is the potential for people getting badly injured or dying," Pape said.

Flakka dangers

Incidents involving flakka use have made national headlines.

According to the Associated Press, a Florida man allegedly under the influence of the drug ran naked through a neighborhood yelling that he was a god and committed a sexual act on a tree.

In another incident, a naked man ran down a busy city street during the day, convinced he was being chased by a pack of German shepherds, the AP reported.

Pape said he also is concerned about the risk with law enforcement officers confronting people high on alpha-PVP. He said officers responding to a scene do not always know what drug a person may be using and how it will make them act.

"They aren't wearing a sign saying (the drug they're using)," Pape said.

Pape said buyers do not always know for sure what substance they're getting when purchasing illegal drugs. Along with dealers substituting other substances for drugs, Pape said a person expecting to receive ecstasy but instead receiving alpha-PVP would get a much different reaction than they expect.

Pape said because the effects of alpha-PVP are so intense, he said there are people who could be so scared that they stop using the drug after one time. However, he said there will still be people who would keep using the drug.

Criminal charges for fake drugs

One of Roa-Baerga's felony drug charges is for allegedly selling a fake drug to an undercover agent.

Assistant Dubuque County Attorney Tim Gallagher said Iowa law allows prosecutors to pursue a criminal charge against a person for claiming to sell an illegal drug even if the "drug" is not any kind of illegal substance.

In an undercover drug purchase, transactions are recorded, Gallagher said.

That is used to prove the intent of a seller to provide an illegal drug to the buyer.

"If I say I want to buy cocaine, and whether you deliver an ounce of cocaine or plasterboard powder, we have the communication that you agreed to that arrangement," Gallagher said.

He said in his 35 years as a drug prosecutor for the county, he has seen the charge about a dozen times for substances that are fake. He said it is a useful tool to help prosecute dealers.

"If for whatever reason they're not delivering the product they're saying, they're still engaging in the marketplace and we want to remove them from the marketplace," he said.

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