Phencyclidine (PCP), that old street drug, has reemerged. What remains the same, however, are the innumerable horror stories involving paranoia, psychosis, and unimaginable acts of violence. Because of that, PCP has garnered sensational media attention and lurid headlines.
A prime example is that of forty-five-year-old Ronald Singleton. On July 13, 2014, a cab driver reported that Singleton, a passenger in his taxi, was “acting overly irate and irrational, cursing and screaming and causing alarm” (Marcellino, 2014). A police statement documented that Singleton got out of the taxi and “became combative with (an) officer, trying to fight with him.” Police restrained him by placing him in a protective body wrap, but while being transported to St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital Center to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, Singleton died.
The medical examiner’s office declared the manner of death as homicide caused by the “physical restraint by police during excited delirium due to acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.” The medical examiner’s office said factors such as “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease” and obesity contributed to Singleton’s death (Marcellino, 2014).
Even as the New York Police Department was being investigated by Manhattan prosecutors for the unfortunate death, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said it was the PCP that placed Singleton’s life in jeopardy and that officers were just doing their jobs.
“The drug puts the abuser in an extremely agitated state while boosting the person’s strength to abnormal levels,” Lynch said in a statement. “Our members follow department protocols designed to best insure the safety of the drug abuser and of the police officers who are attempting to get the individual the necessary medical aid” he continued (Alvarez, 2014).
Singleton’s heartbroken wife, Lyn Warren Singleton, admitted that her husband of nineteen years had a drug history and multiple run-ins with the police. Singleton had sixty-one arrests on his record including busts for drugs, assaults, and weapons possession.
The five-foot-seven, 210-pound man “went into a panic” when cops approached him, Lyn said. “He was never good with police. He always went into hysterics—this is before he even started indulging” (Bult, Paddock, & Tracy, 2014). She blamed the police for not giving the father of four and grandfather of three the medical attention he needed. “They didn’t pay attention to him when he was crying for help,” she said. “Someone having a heart attack has different signs than someone just bugging out” (Bult et al., 2014).
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “tragic incident that obviously was related to drug use. “We have a lot of indication that he was in a very difficult situation, flailing about and not able to stop and a danger to himself and others,” de Blasio said. “And from everything we’ve seen so far, the protocol was followed to protect him and protect everyone around him by restraining him. Obviously, his other medical circumstances and the drug use then played a role in his demise” (CBS New York, 2014).
Although the dangers of phencyclidine have been widely publicized, the clandestine PCP distribution network is mired in gang-related secrecy. In 2001, the FBI arrested seventeen people, including members of the Ambrose street gang, for the street corner sale of PCP. Centered in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, the Ambrose crews sold $31,500 worth of PCP every week (O’Connor, 2001). A nearly two-year investigation called Operation Blue Water, spearheaded by the FBI and Chicago police, targeted the gang’s PCP distribution.
Authorities were able to shut down a Gary trucking business housing a functioning PCP lab that manufactured the drug. At a news conference, Thomas J. Kneir, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Chicago, said the arrests dismantled the gang’s drug organization and supply connections. PCP distribution had been the traditional stronghold of outlaw motorcycle gangs, prior to the street gang takeover (O’Connor, 2001).
“I Want a Kobe”
Another epicenter of PCP manufacturing and distribution was found in South Los Angeles. In March 2007, authorities discovered a clandestine laboratory in Landers, California. Defendants were in the midst of an ongoing PCP “cook” that would have likely yielded hundreds of gallons of PCP with an estimated street value of over $1 million.
On November 8, 2010, Kim Vernell Walker, a leader of the Santana Block Crips, was sentenced to life in federal prison for being one of the kingpins of the PCP-distribution ring. Walker had numerous prior convictions for felonies related to drug trafficking, including PCP. Another offender, Alphonso Eugene Foster, a leader of the Grape Street Crips was convicted of leading a wide-ranging conspiracy to manufacture and distribute large quantities of PCP. On February 5, 2011, Foster was sentenced to life without parole in federal prison.
As part of the conspiracy, Foster, Walker, and others produced hundreds of gallons of PCP at various locations in South Los Angeles and San Bernardino County, including a residence in Landers. The group made large profits distributing the PCP throughout South Los Angeles and to cities on the East Coast.
In order to obtain the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture the highly flammable and hazardous PCP, Foster and Walker opened a graffiti removal business in San Bernardino as a front for ordering the otherwise illegal precursor chemicals. Foster and Walker manufactured and possessed hundreds of gallons of PCP over the course of the conspiracy (“California gang,” 2011).
Los Angeles Police Department narcotics Detective Frank Lyga, a member of California’s only complete clandestine lab team not run by the DEA, investigated PCP for more than sixteen years and has served as expert witness throughout the country. While angel dust sounds powdery, PCP is used almost entirely as a liquid, and ordered on the street by code.
“It’s sold using basketball names for the amount wanted,” Lyga stated. Code for twenty-four ounces of the drug would be a reference to Kobe Bryant, number twenty-four for the Lakers. “They’ll call up and say ‘I want a Kobe’ or ‘I want a Shaq,’” Lyga continued (SOURCE).
“There’s a saying on the street, ‘Two puffs I’m good, three puffs I’m whacked,’ which is when people do crazy stuff like pull out their own teeth,” Lyga said (Wride, 2013).
PCP is a dissociative drug, meaning that it distorts perceptions of sight and sound and produces feelings of detachment (dissociation) from the environment and self. First introduced as a street drug in the 1960s, PCP quickly gained a reputation as a drug that could cause bad reactions and was not worth the risk. However, some abusers continue to use PCP due to the feelings of strength, power, and invulnerability as well as a numbing effect on the mind that PCP can induce. Among the adverse psychological effects reported are the following:
- Symptoms that mimic schizophrenia, such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disordered thinking, and a sensation of distance from one’s environment
- Mood disturbances. Approximately 50 percent of individuals brought to emergency rooms because of PCP-induced problems—related to use within the past forty-eight hours—report significant elevations in anxiety symptoms (SOURCE).
- People who have abused PCP for long periods of time have reported memory loss, difficulties with speech and thinking, depression, and weight loss. These symptoms can persist up to one year after stopping PCP abuse.
- Addiction. PCP is addictive—its repeated abuse can lead to craving and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior, despite severe adverse consequences (NIDA, 2009).
Will N. Elwood’s research brief, “Fry: A Study of Adolescents’ Use of Embalming Fluid with Marijuana and Tobacco” provides an insight into the drug’s popularity on the streets:
The use of marijuana dipped in PCP-laced embalming fluid was reported in the early 1970s in and around Trenton, New Jersey. More recently, use of the substance was reported in Hartford and the surrounding state of Connecticut. Known there as “illy” (from Philly Blunts cigars, or from the knowledge that the combination can make one ill) or “clickems,” the epidemic peaked in 1993–1994. Use by adolescents became so problematic that one gang, the Latin Kings, asked the State Department of Public Health to intervene.
Concurrently in 1994, reports to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Community Epidemiology Work Group from Philadelphia and Washington, DC indicated that the increased use of PCP was associated with the growing use of marijuana cigarettes and marijuana-laced cigars, increasingly laced with PCP. At the same time, Los Angeles reported PCP-sprayed tobacco, parsley or marijuana, and Chicago reported the use of sherm sticks, cigarettes dipped in PCP and happy sticks, home-rolled marijuana or tobacco cigarettes sprayed with PCP. In New York City, PCP is sprinkled on mint or parsley leaves and sold by the bag, while dealers allowed individuals to dip a cigarette into a small container of embalming fluid for $20 per dip (Elwood, 1998).
The drug is also known as “water” or “wet.” Users, often young and fearless, speak of getting “wetted up,” a state of amped up psychosis and belligerence that often ends in a psychiatric ward. Wet is different than “angel dust,” the earlier powdered version of PCP. Wet is a dissolved, oily yellow tincture of PCP either soaked in crushed mint leaves and sold in dime bags or cigarettes (“dippers”) dipped into the substance, ready to be smoked.
The Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force (LA Impact) is a compilation of numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County. The primary focus of LA Impact is to investigate major crimes, with an emphasis on dismantling mid- to major-level drug trafficking organizations. LA Impact has specialized proficiency in major drug trafficking organizations, money laundering, covert operation information development, clandestine laboratory investigations, transportation and parcel interdiction, and gang enforcement (Jackman, 2011).
A 2014 investigation conducted by LA Impact, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Task Force (HIDTA), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) led to at least twenty arrests after a drug bust uncovered one hundred gallons of PCP. One gallon of PCP contains nearly 77,000 doses of the drug. In 2012, a gallon of PCP sold for about $12,000 in Los Angeles (Fitz-Gerald, 2014).
Federal prosecutors charged forty defendants linked to PCP cookhouses, distribution networks, and South Los Angeles gangs. Anthony Dwight Bracken, an accused angel dust cooker based in San Bernardino with strong ties to South Los Angeles, was believed to be the head of the drug operation. The defendants could face life sentences in federal prison without parole because of the vast quantity of chemicals seized in the case.
The investigation linked the drug with the Grape Street Crips and revealed that PCP was sent from Los Angeles to cities around the country, including cities in Texas, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and New York. Officials stated there’s a 99 percent chance that any PCP bought in the US originated in Southern California (Fitz-Gerald, 2014).
In a statement, US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said, “Today’s operation breaks the grip that these drug makers and dealers have held on the neighborhoods of Watts and South Los Angeles by targeting the highest levels of PCP traffickers and those responsible for manufacture and distribution of this deadly drug” (Fitz-Gerald, 2014).
Along with molly, purple drank, and chronic, PCP has found favor within certain aspects of the black community, often promoted by rappers who celebrate the drug’s dangerous appeal. On April 10, 2002, twenty-five-year-old Antron Singleton, better known as American rapper Big Lurch, murdered roommate Tynisha Ysais in Los Angeles, California. Singleton, who was under the influence of PCP, then cannibalized parts of her body.
A detective’s report said Ysais, age twenty-one, was killed in her apartment. Further examination revealed tooth marks on her face and lungs. The detective stated that her lungs appeared to have been chewed and torn from her chest. A three-inch blade had broken off in her shoulder blade. A medical examination performed soon after Singleton’s capture found human flesh in his stomach that was not his own (Creekmur, 2002).
Some have argued that the effects of PCP have been sensationalized and overstated, and that other drugs can have similar properties. Still, there remains ample evidence that PCP use can bring about horrifying consequences. Addressing this topic writer, Cecil Adams concluded, “Is PCP inherently dangerous? Given the continuing litany of horror stories after forty years of street use, it seems clear this stuff is in a different league from LSD and other drugs with which it’s often compared. The argument can be made that it unleashes violent outbursts mainly in people who were unstable to start with” (2005).
PCP users refer to their high as being totally out of control. Although it is impossible to understand why anyone would use a drug so unpredictable and wrought in violence, this provides another example of the insanity of addiction and the absence of rational thought. Big Lurch, Ronald Singleton, and so many others never heeded this warning, choosing instead to abuse PCP and become pawns in its deadly game.
Adams, C. (2005). Does PCP turn people into cannibals? Retrieved from http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2589/does-pcp-turn-people-into-cannibals
Alvarez, V. A. (2014). Cops not to blame for death of drug-addled NYC man, Ronald Singleton: Union. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/31/nyc-cops-not-to-blame-dru_n_5743820.html
Bult, L., Paddock, B., & Tracy, T. (2014). Death of man high on PCP and being restrained by cops ruled a homicide. New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/death-man-high-pcp-restrained-cops-ruled-homicide-article-1.1922055
“California gang leader sentenced to life in prison for distributing PCP.” (2011). Retrieved from http://www.streetgangs.com/news/020511_life_pcp_distribution#sthash.FKwfSEBn.Gc7FgP0H.dpbs
CBS New York. (2014). Bill Bratton: Response appropriate in police custody death of Ronald Singleton. Retrieved from http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/09/01/bill-bratton-response-appropriate-in-police-custody-death-of-ronald-singleton/
Creekmur, C. (2002). Big Lurch faces trial for torture and murder. Retrieved from http://www.rapnews.net/0-202-257866-00.html
Elwood, W. N. (1998). Fry: A study of adolescents’ use of embalming fluid with marijuana and tobacco. Retrieved from http://tunlaw.org/fry.htm
Fitz-Gerald, S. (2014). Alleged southland PCP makers, dealers charged in federal indictment. Retrieved from http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Local-State-and-Federal-Authorities-Team-Up-to-Takedown-SoCal-PCP-Dealers-245261421.html
Jackman, T. J. (2011). City of Santa Monica city council report. Retrieved from http://www.smgov.net/departments/council/agendas/2011/20110412/s2011041203-B.htm
Marcellino, M. (2014). Death of man restrained by NYPD ruled homicide. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/30/justice/new-york-police-death/index.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2009). DrugFacts: Hallucinogens – LSD, peyote, psilocybin, and PCP. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens-lsd-peyote-psilocybin-pcp
O’Connor, M. (2001). PCP pipeline dismantled, FBI declares. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-12-19/news/0112190080_1_pcp-distribution-street-gang-fbi
Veronese, K. (2012). Big Lurch ‘the cannibal rapper’: “PCP made me do it.” Retrieved from http://www.hiphoppress.com/2012/07/153994-the-cannibal-rapper
Wride, N. (2013). Return to dust: Bane of the ‘70s, PCP now a supporting player in the saga of Aaron Hernandez. Retrieved from http://www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com/behavioral-health-news/aaron-hernandez-pcp-making-comeback/