Illegal drug users dip into embalming fluid

By chillinwill · Aug 5, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    The car sped at James Pierce and his girlfriend as they walked to his apartment one clear January night.

    The white Dodge Intrepid struck them head-on at 11:15 p.m. along Cortland Avenue, authorities said.

    The force from the fender partially tore off Pierce's left leg. The crash threw Pierce, 55, onto the car's hood and through the windshield, his father later said. Glass lodged in his head.

    His girlfriend, Senora Brown, 44, also suffered serious injuries.

    The Intrepid sped off. Within an hour, Anthony Jones, 29, called 911 to admit striking the pedestrians.

    Before running down the couple, Jones had smoked a cigarette dipped in embalming fluid laced with PCP, according to Senior Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bednarski.

    Jones's case highlights the effects of smoking embalming fluid with PCP. While police don't track the recreational use of embalming fluid, a legal substance, local health-care officials say they are seeing more cases of the substance being mixed with drugs for a hallucinogenic -- and often violent -- high. Local emergency rooms are on pace to handle twice the number of embalming fluid cases as a year ago.

    An ambulance rushed James Pierce to University Hospital Jan. 16 for emergency surgery. He was unconscious for two weeks. After three months, he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility on the Hudson River south of Albany. He hasn't seen his parents since.

    His parents visited him every other day in Syracuse, but they are elderly and can't make the 200-mile trip to Lake Katrine, near the Catskills.

    "Oh my God, if we could see him, that would mean so much," his father, William, 85, said.

    His parents scraped together $15 from their Social Security income to send to him. They heard the facility has a place where he can buy small items, such as food and toiletries.

    Reached by phone last week, Pierce said he doesn't remember the crash or his stay at University Hospital.

    Pierce, a professional handyman, had his left leg amputated. One of his arms is useless. He's in a wheelchair.

    His girlfriend could not be reached for comment.

    Jones, the driver, admitted on July 21 that he had been driving under the influence of drugs. He pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular assault and leaving the scene of an incident without reporting it. He is expected to spend 3 1/3 to 10 years in state prison.

    Bizarre behavior

    Cigarettes dipped in embalming fluid have been around since the 1960s, but their use has increased in Syracuse in the past few years, and especially in the past year, said Dr. Elizabeth Berry, a clinical psychologist at Crouse Hospital.

    The fluid is available online and marijuana laced with it is often sold on the street, she said.

    The embalming fluid sold on street corners is virtually always laced with illegal drugs, Berry said.

    "People found different ways to combine it with other drugs," she said. "Drug dealers are not FDA-approved."

    It's often combined with phencyclidine, also known as PCP, a strong hallucinogen, and used to coat marijuana cigarettes, experts said.

    The PCP causes the unpredictable and violent behavior that is associated with embalming fluid, giving it the reputation of a drug that causes users to act crazy.

    Users are known to strip off their clothing and do things believing they have super-human strength.

    "These are the kids you hear are tearing their clothes off and running down the street," Berry said.

    She said teens she counsels in the hospital's chemical dependency treatment program have alerted her to increased use of embalming fluid. They have described hallucinogenic episodes that indicate the presence of PCP.

    "They see things that they didn't see before -- their face dripping, their skin falling off, body parts spreading out," she said. "It's like going through that funhouse. It's a little scary, but they like it."

    A tiny amount -- or about 0.00025 grams -- of pure PCP is enough to get high, said Dr. Christine Stork, managing director of the Upstate New York Poison Center. This amount cannot be placed on a cigarette directly, so drug dealers use embalming fluid to dilute the drug into a solution with the street name "wet" or "water." The cigarette is dipped in this mixture.

    A dipped cigarette is called "fry" or a "fry stick." It is either shaken or put in a freezer to dry out before it is smoked. A marijuana cigarette laced with embalming fluid and PCP sells on the street for about $20.

    Four people with illnesses relating to embalming fluid were treated in Central New York emergency rooms in 2008. Four users had been reported by May this year, according to the Upstate New York Poison Center.

    But street use rarely results in emergency room visits, Stork said. Experts compared it to the small number who check themselves into hospitals after getting high on marijuana or ecstasy.

    "It's when something goes wrong, that's when they go to the hospital," said Michele Caliva, the administrative director at the poison center.

    Street demand

    Syracuse funeral director Charles Garland learned first-hand about the street demand for embalming fluid after a man claimed he was one of Garland's workers.

    Police said the man walked into the Butler-Badman Funeral Home in early May and asked John Badman for embalming fluid, claiming he worked for Garland Bros.

    The man left with four bottles of embalming fluid, said Joseph Matt, who works with Badman. Three days later, the man came back and got four more bottles.

    Matt called Garland when the man came the second time, but Garland didn't call back until after the man left. Soon after, Garland called and told Matt to call police.

    When the man came back May 5, sheriff's deputies were waiting. He told them he was a funeral director looking for work, but could not provide any identification, said Sgt. John D'Eredita.

    Andrew J.J. Washington, 39, of 211 Warner Ave., was charged with petit larceny, D'Eredita said. Washington could not be reached for comment.

    Syracuse police don't track embalming fluid use, because the substance is not illegal.

    But officers are aware it is available on the street, said Lt. John Corbett. He likened it to other inhalants, such as typewriter fluid and cleaning solvents, when it's not combined with PCB.
    Funeral director talks about the dangers of embalming fluid use

    Safeguards needed

    Garland said embalming fluid is too easily available for abuse.

    The chemical is used in more than 60 funeral homes in Onondaga County, Garland said. Hospital morgues use formaldehyde, a main ingredient in embalming fluid. Anyone with access to those places could steal it, he said.

    The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says the fluid can be bought in person from manufacturers or purchased on the Internet.

    "It's not that hard to get your hands on it," Garland said.

    Recreational use should be outlawed, he said.

    "Sometimes, a tragedy has to happen to make people aware there is a larger problem. We have to be proactive and enact laws to prevent this abuse."

    What is embalming fluid?

    It's a chemical compound containing formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents. A highly-flammable poison, its purpose is to preserve the dead by making the body an unsuitable host for bacteria and other organisms. This slows the decomposition process. Embalming fluid is used before the dead are shown at a funeral or sent long distances. Source: Funeral director Charles Garland

    The drug's effects

    Smoking embalming fluid with PCP can result in:
    Hallucinations; symptoms associated with schizophrenia, including delusions and paranoia; difficulty with speech or thought; loss of self-identity; depression and weight loss. It can cause users to lose the bounds of their egos and to lose touch with reality. Source: National Drug Intelligence Center

    Embalming fluid slang

    Fry, fry sticks, fry sweet, wet, water, wetdaddy, wack, ill, illy, sherm, milk, purple rain, happy sticks, drank, dippers, amp and clickem. Source: National Drug Intelligence Center

    Listen to an interview with reporter Doug Dowty about this story in our new feature, Centered on Syracuse.

    by Douglass Dowty
    August 3, 2009
    The Post-Standard

    Share This Article


  1. Senor Gribson
    They were smoking formaldehyde?
    Is this a joke?
  2. ninjaned
    believe it or not swim has heard of this. however he sees no reason why formaldehyde would get one high... the only thing they had to say on wiki about human consumption was that it was prolly a carcinogen... so not only is it an improbable high it'll give you cancer. bravo to the users(sarcasm).
  3. runitsthepolice
    Doug Dowty is obviously a fucking moron.

    Embalming fluid is a slang term for pcp. This leads to a lot of confusion with people who have no clue.

    Formaldehyde is also called embalming fluid, because that is what its used for. Formaldehyde produces no desirable effects if you smoke it.

    Formaldehyde and pcp are in no way related.
  4. nibble
    This article is so rife with misinformation it's almost hilarious. I imagined it was some sort of joke but it appears to be serious, who is feeding journalists this stuff? There could hardly be a large number of people actually doing this, would the complete lack of psychoactive effects not hinder it's use as a recreational drug..
  5. sandoz1943
    This pops up every few years. I remember hearing about it in the 80's and again in the 90's. Always makes me think of the Freak Brothers quote "If it can kill ya it can get ya high" Shame people can't get their hands on cleaner safer drugs and resort to doing crazy stuff like this.
  6. Rightnow289
    Well done to the reporter for doing his research. Jesus I hope they get their arses kicked when they print shit like this
  7. EscapeDummy
    "The fluid is available online and marijuana laced with it is often sold on the street, she said."

    Really? Often sold laced on weed?

    Guess they also missed the fact that embalming fluid is not PCP, any more than LSD isn't actually god's flesh.
  8. runitsthepolice
    Look at the comments below. Most people are fucking retarded it makes me want to ram my head through a wall.

    Theres a few people that seem to not be idiots. They probably came from this site.
  9. chibi curmudgeon
    Are those bottles actually embalming fluid? What I can read on them sounds about right, but the names are kind of hilarious.
  10. Desertfox
    Kids have actually smoked embalming fluid because of stupid articles like this and went retarded. they lost all long term memory function. they get up in the morning eat breakfast, shower, go up stairs to change and come back down and do it all over again because they think they're just waking up again. PCP is NOT embalming fluid and embalming fluid is NOT used to dilute PCP. If it is and you buy it convinced that that's how it normally is sold, then you sir are a moron, as is the writer of this article.

    Oh and most embalming fluid contains methanol, about %15 of it is. If you were to inhale methanol you would go blind. often permanentaly. it fucks with an equilibrium in your eyeball.
  11. cra$h
    LSD isn't god's own flesh and blood?!?!? BLASHEMY! haha, everyone knows lsd is god's tears that have absorbed parts of his eye and that why we see things so beautifly.....

    I couldn't even finish the article... I started feeling my braincells dying the further I got. The problem with these articles, is that kids will learn that "Pcp can get you high", try it out, and literally die. The reporter should be put in prison for involuntary manslaughter, right next to the guy he did the report on.
  12. g666d
    agree with everything everyone above has said, what annoys me is can't sign into site with new account i made there to at least comment, and possibly email site OPs, if they'd even care...
    Misinformation... guess solution really is to educate saying you can believe no-one but yourself...(and then, in my case, still be critical ;) )
    Methanol turns to formaldehyde in liver, AFAIK, making you blind... imagine ingesting formaldehyde does the same thing faster,
    ...fucking idiots (the imaginary ones and the writer of article)
  13. fiveleggedrat
    This is one huge case of misinformation a la BANANADINE!

    I can't believe both the press and the (idiot) drug community is eating it up.
  14. emoduckie
    Embalming fluid is the shit!
    But really, where do people come up with this bullshit?
    Do they sit around at a conference table and brainstorm ways to murder people via their articles? AH-HA!! I've got it, its all part of the war on drugs bullshit propaganda. The idea is that drug users will be curious enough to try it, and they will all die, therefore, no more drug users!
  15. podge
    I like most others who read this couldnt quite wrap my head around what i was reading. Anybody listen to the podcast with this guy? He says Embalming fluid is used to potentiate marijuana and PCP , and the woman introducing the show calls Pcp - Pc"peas". Maybe its a really convincing satire but i think its actually serious, somehow this guy heard the slang name for PCP (embalming fluid) and decided not to do any research before printing this travesty of journalism.


    Just e mailed this guy the following :

    Hello Mr Dowty,
    im sure this has already been drawn to your attention, but the article you wrote about PCP is factually incorrect. Formaldehyde does not potentiate PCP or marijuana. Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, but "Embalming fluid" is also a slang term for PCP - i think this is where your confusion arose, this and perhaps that marijuana is commonly used to potentiate most other drugs. Im sure people have made this mistake before and surely have consumed actual embalming fluid not realizing it is only a slang term for PCP.... but this is certainly not a regular occurance in the illegal drugs market. As formaldehyde does not potentiate PCP it would make no sense for people who sell this drug to mix it with PCP as opposed to another more accessible/cheaper solution which is not dangerous to consume. It makes sense that drug dealers would want to keep their customers alive.

    All the best,

  16. podge
    Swim just received this response :

    Thank you. I am aware of the information you sent me. However, I have sources within the Syracuse police department who tell me that some people are, in fact, using embalming fluid as a way to cut PCP. Whether they understand that it has very little impact or not, the fact is that this is occuring. I cited a court case in which the investigation showed such an occurance. I also interviewed numerous police, poison control experts and community activists who told me actual embalming fluid was used.
    Do seasoned drug dealers use embalming fluid, when, as you pointed out, there are cheaper alternatives? Probably not. But I carefully researched the story to only include actual uses of embalming fluid, excluding cases in which embalming flud was simply slang. I am told, when smoked, the fluid produces an incredible gaseous odor. That wouldn't be the case if it wasn't cut with something containing ethanol or methanol.
    This story was written over the course of several months and carefully vetted to avoid the potential confusion you stated below.
    --Doug Dowty
    The Post-Standard
  17. nibble
    Would a phencyclidine salt even be soluble in formaldehyde? How would you go about cutting PCP with it and how would it be distributed? It just doesn't add up in my opinion. The dealers in question would surely be risking personal toxicity too.
  18. g666d
    ...swim had a friend who was caught with 2 marijuana seedlings, some lights and some bud (2g or so). Has been charged with cultivation with intent to supply, but will fight it. Local community newspaper printed article where police stated this was bust of 'major drug supply operation" haha, swim knows this guy would only ever grow for personal supply (and possibly *hopefully* close friends), and his yield would be lucky if was 400g...
    job of reporters to check validity of sources and accurately present info... not this shock scaremongering crap.
    should have been story on weirdo drug dealer's perversions... if true. Or maybe there is misconception out there... this article does nothing to illuminate that.
    Swim thinks misconception could well be in police narcotic squad originally, from sounds of ingredients in the fluid the solvents may have other potential uses.
    shit article any way you look at it, swim thinks.

    thanks for posting follow up
  19. missparkles
    Regardless of the voracity of the info, whatever the bloke in the article had taken, I feel sorry about the bloke who was injured. He's the one suffering, anyone care to show a little compassion for him?
    Sparkles feels people get so angry at incorrect drug info they forget the human devastation that can be caused by idiots taking drugs and getting into a fuckin' car. This is another example of why drug education is so important.
    She hopes the parents of this man who had his leg amputated get all the help they need, they're the real victims in this whole sorry story.
  20. b3ni
    Slightly off topic, but isn't methanal unstable, and will oxidise into methanoic acid fairly quickly?
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