Drowning in 'Water': PCP Abuse in New York

"Water," aka PCP, on the Rise in Syracuse, N.Y.
"It Makes You Feel Like Superman," Reports User Now in Jail
Eric Bacon

It was a late spring night in Syracuse, N.Y., when Eric Bacon decided to go on a joy ride with some friends. Rolling the windows down, blasting up the sound system and lighting up a joint are the last things he remembered.

Hours later, he was attacking a man on the street.

"I don't know how, but I ended up with a gun in my hand and I ended up robbing people," Bacon, 25, told ABCNews.com.

It was all a fog, he recalls. Even today, five years later, Bacon says he does not clearly remember why he decided to attack and rob someone. All he could remember was that he had smoked a "water" joint earlier that night.

"Water" is the street name for a cigarette or marijuana joint dipped in liquid PCP, a hallucinogen also known as phencyclidine, or in embalming fluid laced with PCP.

Is use is on the rise in Syracuse.

"I ended up doing three-and-a half years of my life because of it," said Bacon.

Bacon spoke with ABCNews.com at the Onondaga County Jail, in the library area where the Clean and Sober pod, a group of inmates who receive counseling for their drug use and related crimes, meet.

While he said his drug of choice was ecstasy, he added that he's been using water ever since he was 18 and has done it more times than he can count.

Bacon is not alone. According to the Upstate New York Poison Control Center, incidents of people intoxicated with water have been on the rise, and police say it quickly has become the fourth most used drug in Syracuse, after marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Water first took off in Syracuse in the 1960s and was known as "angel dust." At its height, it sold for $20 to $25 a stick, but its popularity faded with the influx of designer drugs such as cocaine and heroin. According to the 2008 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated six million Americans, ages 12 and older, have tried PCP at least once.

The most recent survey states that the rate of new PCP users has decreased in recent years, dropping from 123,000 new users in 2002 to 45,000 new users in 2009. Syracuse, however, does not seem to be following this nationwide trend.

Marketing an "Exciting" New Drug

According to Frank Fowler, Syracuse's chief of police, the city started seeing a resurgence of water usage four years ago, particularly among men ranging from ages 16 to 25. Water now sells for $10 to $15 a stick and is known by a number of other names: "wet," "the wave," "black dust," "happy sticks," "horse tranquilizer," "embalming fluid" and "formaldehyde."

So why the resurgence now? Dr. Brian Johnson of Upstate Medical University Hospital said it's all about the marketing of a new drug.

"'Wet' sounds exciting," Dr. Johnson said. "It's also called water, which sounds kind of healthy. And then you can call it embalming fluid, which sounds kind of like death. So healthy, death, wet, it's exciting. It's all marketing to get stupid kids to buy drugs that are going to make them sick."

To obtain embalming fluid, drug dealers in Syracuse purchase it online; some have resorted to breaking into and stealing bottles from local funeral homes.

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