'I Felt Like I Wanted To Hurt People'

Mike is hardly a seasoned drug user. When the shy 16-year-old bought marijuana in the bathroom of his suburban Hartford, Conn., high school, he didn't know what it was supposed to smell like. The stuff gave off such a strong chemical stench that Mike hid it in the attic insulation at home. The pot seemed more potent than he'd expected, too. "The next day, when most people would feel normal, I would still have trouble walking," says Mike, clad in frayed-bottom khakis and a red Nike T shirt. "I felt like I wanted to hurt people. I felt like everybody was after me." When Mike's parents finally discovered some of the stash in his reeking bedroom, they knew it wasn't the marijuana they remembered from the '70s. Turns out Mike's pot was "wet"--laced with the hallucinogen PCP and, for an extra kick, embalming fluid.

Known as angel dust in the 1970s, PCP, or phencyclidine, gave users superhuman strength and a numbing calm. But the addictive, psychedelic drug also made many paranoid, violent and completely out of touch with reality; they leapt off roofs and broke out of handcuffs with their bare hands. Police cracked down, and eventually the drug got such a bad reputation that even junkies wouldn't touch it. But now there are signs that the disco-era scourge is quietly gaining a new following--often among unwitting users like Mike. PCP is cheap and relatively easy to make in the lab, and boosts the effects of other drugs. PCP seizures by the Drug Enforcement Administration shot up 24 percent from 2000 to 2001 (not counting a big Texas bust that drove the numbers through the roof). Nationally, PCP-related visits to the emergency room jumped 48 percent from 1999 to 2000 and were still on the rise in the first half of 2001, the latest year for which figures are available. To be sure, PCP is still a small part of the nation's drug problem: the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that 264,000 Americans fessed up to PCP use in the previous year--a fraction of the million who said they'd tried methamphetamines. But given PCP's nasty history, drug experts worry about the smallest uptick. PCP can make users so delusional that "they become like a hand grenade with the pin missing," says Jim Parker of the Do It Now Foundation, a drug-education group. "Any increase is cause for alarm."

It's easy to see why. In April, aspiring rapper Antron Singleton was arrested after Los Angeles police found him standing in the street, naked and covered in blood. Prosecutors say he brutally murdered his 21-year-old roommate--she had bite marks on her face, a slashed cheek and a lung that appeared to have been gnawed on. Singleton's defense? He was smoking PCP the morning before the killing. In Phoenix, a man bit off and swallowed the thumb of his 2-year-old son in a wigged-out attempt to mix their DNA. (Later, while telling police he'd taken several hits of PCP, the man regurgitated the thumb.) In Pittsburgh last month, a man who said he was on PCP shot a pregnant woman and her parents before beating, stabbing and shooting their 12-year-old son--who somehow lived to testify against the alleged killer.

Many of today's PCP users are too young to remember the havoc the drug caused the last time round. At Ben Taub Hospital, Houston's busiest emergency room, Dr. Janice Zimmerman treats from one to five PCP patients every day--most of them 17 to 25. Cynthia Hepler, admissions manager at a Houston drug-treatment center, estimates that 40 percent of her admissions are now young PCP users. "Wet started being used in the inner city, but it is hitting the suburbs," says Hepler.

And that counts only those who knowingly try the drug. In addition to soaking pot in it, dealers have been mixing PCP with ecstasy--upping the potency while lowering the price. "Most people using PCP have no idea they are using," says Dr. Barry Spiegel of the Rosecrance Treatment Center in Rockford, Ill. It was certainly a shock to Mike, who's now in treatment and has sworn off smoking any more mysterious substances. "I never want to do PCP again," Mike says. A lesson learned the hard way: it's just not worth the risk.

'I Felt Like I Wanted To Hurt People' | News