Onetha Gethers owns Gethers Funeral Home in Syracuse's Southside of Syracuse, a low-income, often rundown part of town. In the past two years, people have broken into her business in search of embalming fluid. The first time the robbers broke in, neighbors chased them away. But the second time, Gethers was not so lucky.
"I saw the rugs were disturbed," Gethers said. "And I continued and saw that the upstairs in the parlor area was mangled and out of order."
Before, Gethers stored her bottles of formaldehyde in cabinets in the room she calls her morgue, downstairs. Now, due to the demand for water, she only orders embalming fluid when she needs it, or hires outside trade embalmers.
Prosecuting use of embalming fluid is a problem. Because it is a legal substance, police cannot test and arrest someone for using it.
New York state senator David Valesky , however, is trying to change this. He recently drafted Senate bill S7542b that seeks to make the incorrect use of embalming fluid a Class A misdemeanor, which carries fines and jail time.
"We thought we ought to make it very clear from a New York State legal perspective that there's one use and only one use for this substance called embalming fluid," Senator Valesky said. "And anything else that it's used for is simply not gonna happen without penalties."
Valesky's bill passed through the State Senate unanimously in June 2010 and now awaits the vote in the Assembly.
Senator Valesky credits Helen Hudson, a community activist in Syracuse, with bringing the issue to his attention. Working as the community liaison for the city's chapter of the United Way and as president and cofounder of Mothers Against Gun Violence, she strives to get water off the streets. But her places of employment aren't the only reason for her struggle.
Hudson's 29-year-old son, Kareem Wofford, is a water addict, and she recalled the day she discovered this.
"He was standing in the middle of the street, and he was loud and he was pacing, and he was ranting and he was raving," Hudson said.
"And I looked at him and I asked him what was going on. ... 'What's going on with you?' I said. 'What have you had?' … And he looked at me and said, 'Water.'"
Hudson said that her son has been addicted to the drug for a year and that she no longer recognizes him. From the nauseating odor that emanates from his pores to his erratic behavior that has led him into fights in which he's been stabbed, it's become clear to Hudson that water has taken over her son's life.
But as some users say, the high is so incredible that there's no turning back.
"It makes you feel like Superman," Bacon said. "It makes you feel just like you're untouchable. Like someone can do something to you and you won't even feel it."
Because PCP is a hallucinogen, Dr. Johnson said users often experience this sensation of invincibility and perform crazy stunts while under the influence.
"It makes you scary, violent, hot. Often people take their clothes off," Dr. Johnson said. "Sometimes people are arrested while they're on phencyclidine because they strip off all their clothes and run around the streets naked. It puts you in a blackout."