Two Grisly Child Murders Prompt PCP Crackdown in New Jersey

PHOTO: Osvaldo Rivera and Chevonne Thomas are both accused of killing a child, in separate incidents and authorities believe both suspects had smoked wet, a drug cocktail featuring the hallucinogen PCP, in Camden, New Jersey.PlayABC NEWS
WATCH Camden, NJ Double Stabbing: 1 Child Dead

Authorities in New Jersey are cracking down on PCP, a hallucinogenic drug that has been involved in two grisly murders of children in less than two weeks in the crime-ridden city of Camden, N.J.

The Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the Camden Police Department say they are "concerned" with the use of the drug in the city and are "taking steps to curb the market for this exceedingly dangerous and destructive drug."

"Violent behavior with PCP, that's nothing new," Police Chief Scott Thomson said. "It's happening on a daily basis in Philadelphia and urban centers all over the country. But what has us concerned is the attacks on small children...Is something being added [to the PCP]?"

They have seized batches of the drug for analysis and are implementing a $500 reward program for anyone who can provide information about the sale of the drug that leads to an arrest.

The crackdown on PCP came after a pair of horrifying murders which police say involved the drug PCP.

Osvaldo Rivera, 31, told police that he smoked "wet," a combination of PCP and pot before he allegedly slit the throats of a 6-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister in the middle of the night in their Camden, N.J., home on Sept. 2.

Police believe the attack started as a sexual assault on the 12-year-old girl and turned into a murder when the girl's 6-year-old brother tried to intervene. Rivera allegedly killed the young boy and his sister was able to escape and get help with her own throat slashed. After fighting for her life, she is now in stable condition in the hospital.

Rivera has been charged with murder and attempted murder. He sobbed throughout his first court appearance on Tuesday and prosecutors said he asked investigators during an interview, "How bad did I hurt them?"

On Aug. 22, authorities believe Chevonne Thomas was smoking wet before beheading her 2-year-old son Zahree in Camden.

Thomas had a history of substance abuse and mental health disorders, according to the Department of Children and Families.

She admitted that she killed her son to a 911 dispatcher moments before she stabbed herself to death.

Authorities are blaming PCP for the attacks.

"You've got paranoia, anxiety, delusional behavior, hallucinations and then you add to that a disconnect between the mind and body so the person doesn't feel pain and can behave as if they have superhuman strength," Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, told "The consequences can be dire."

"It's a really dangerous combination and these two cases in particular brought it to the forefront," he said.

PCP is a synthetic drug that was developed in the 1950's as an IV anesthetic. It was never approved for human use because of "problems during clinical studies, including intensely negative psychological effects," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

It made a comeback as an illicit recreational drug in the 1970s and 1980s when it was often known as "angel dust," but quickly fell out of favor due to its extremely adverse effects.

"PCP is a drug that has gone in and out of popularity over the years," Paul Doering, professor emeritus at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, told "It's a drug that is not considered to be terribly kind. In fact, it induces a state of mind that is not distinguishable for a psychotic episode."

"It's not your father's regular joint that would be rolled up in the college dorm 30 years ago," he said. "This is really, really, really dangerous stuff to do."

PCP Crackdown Follows Childrens' Murders

PCP can come in chunks, crystals, powder, tablets or liquid. Authorities believe Rivera and Thomas both smoked wet, which is made when a leafy substance--feasibly marijuana, tobacco, tea leaves, oregano--is rolled in paper and dipped in liquid PCP.

The effect of the drug mimics the effects of schizophrenia, including hallucinations, extreme stress, delusions and disordered thinking, according to NIDA.

"How psychotic can somebody get? Probably as psychotic as anyone with schizophrenia," Dr. Igor Galynker told Galynker is a psychiatrist and director of the Family Center for Bipolar in New York.

"The thing that sets it apart is it's a dissociative drug," Doering said. "It dissociates your mind from your body and people have out-of-body experiences and not in a pleasant sort of way."

While Doering was shocked by the horrific killings of the children, he was not shocked to hear that the killers may have been on PCP.

The experts also said that it is likely that the dangers of existing mental disorders could be exacerbated by the drug.

"I would imagine that it can precipitate psychosis in people who are already vulnerable to it," Galynker said. Authorities have said that Thomas, who decapitated her son, had a history of mental disorders. The prosecutor's office did not know if Rivera had any history with mental issues.

PCP can even do permanent damage.

"If somebody is vulnerable, it would be possible for somebody to smoke it once or twice and develop psychosis that could last months, years or could not be resolved," Galynker said. "It makes people psychotic and I don't understand why anyone would ever use it."

In terms of whether something could have been "added" to a particular batch of PCP in Camden, Galynker said it is possible that the batch had something added that made people hallucinate in a certain way, while Doering pointed out that all PCP is, by definition, "contaminated."

"It's contaminated in that it's not a pharmaceutical drug, not one that's been tested for its safety," Doering said. "A lot of these drugs are made in clandestine labs by people who probably flunked out of organic chemistry and that means that their end product isn't always going to be 'pure' or what the person thinks it was supposed to be."