PCP is back on the Berwyn drug scene under a new alias

Before it was “sherm,” “fly” or “wet.” And now it’s “wicki.”

But it’s all the same, toxic bad-guy phencyclidine – aka PCP – that residents are referring to, says the Berwyn Police Department.

Phencyclidine has reappeared on the drug scene in Berwyn and other west and northwest Chicago suburbs over the past few years as a cheap alternative to cocaine and marijuana and a drug that can easily be laced with heroin.

And the effects can be shocking. One Berwyn woman, a regular PCP user, had to be carried out of her house by eight police officer after smoking PCP, said Sgt. Sal Gamino.

“The drug is dangerous alone, but many people combine PCP with alcohol, heroine, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs that are lethal combinations,” Sgt. Gamino said.

PCP became nearly extinct in the 1990s after horror stories in the media about the side effects. One in particular was of a father cutting off his son’s head.

Michael Oschner, head of the Tactical Unit at the Berwyn Police Department has witnessed such outlandish behaviors himself over the years.

“People lose all sense of reality, hallucinate, have a severe personality change and can engage in pretty dangerous behavior,” he said. “In Berwyn many are chronic users and interact PCP with other depressants such as alcohol, which can be deadly.”

Oschner said PCP effects sometimes last for up to six weeks.

“People who use PCP for long periods of time tend to lose their motor skills and short-term memory,” he said.

To heighten the bad news, Oschner said PCP smells like urine mixed with turpentine.

The Illinois Department of Human Services says PCP first made its appearance in the 1950s as an anesthetic for medical procedures. Patients experienced such severe confusion and delirium that it was no longer used in the medical world, but people began selling it on the black market.

Today PCP has returned to Berwyn because of what Oschner says is the influence of the drug-dealing street gangs. He specifically pointed to the influence of the Ambrose Street Gang, which is based on 63rd Street in Chicago.

“It grows in influence,” Oschner said. “This specific gang comes and goes (in Chicago) in generations. That’s not to say PCP ever disappeared completely, but we deal with PCP cases about once a month. We are one of the unfortunate suburbs of Chicago that deal with PCP, even though it’s minimal. Other areas never see it.”

The urban legend still exists, but PCP is not embalming fluid

Although PCP is nothing new to our society, the urban legend that PCP is embalming fluid is.

“PCP can come in liquid form, so the term ‘fluid’ is fitting,”  Oschner said. “Formaldehyde does not contain PCP; they are two completely different chemicals. Smoking formaldehyde even once could be deadly.”

Embalming fluid is composed of Formaldehyde, Methanol, Ethanol and solvents, so what worries authorities at the Berwyn Police Department is that drug dealers and users are ill informed and might actually be using embalming fluid as a drug.

“There are a lot of underground things happening in the drug market,” Oschner said. “Drug dealers sell PCP for about $20, but buyers should never trust a drug dealer. Who knows what concoction they made.”

Resident Katherine Henrici and her neighbor Loui said a few years ago people used to sell “wicki” a few blocks from MacNeal hospital, something Oschner couldn’t confirm, but said could have been possible. Both residents are under the impression that ‘wicki’ is in fact embalming fluid.

“My friend is a funeral director and told me formaldehyde is what users smoke, and I think that’s just the understanding with people,” Henrici said. “The term ‘wicki’ is associated with embalming fluid.”

National statistics show that PCP is a problem

A nationwide study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration confirmed that in 2008, 99,000 Americans age 12 and older had abused PCP at least once in the year prior to being surveyed, a difference of 10,000 from the same survey taken in 2007.

For drug abuse facilities around Chicago, these statistics ring true. Anita Pindiur at Way Back Inn in Broadview works as a drug counselor to rehabilitate users. “We do see PCP more than we used to, however our clients’ abuse is dependent on alcohol, cocaine and heroin,” Pindiur said. “The PCP is almost never used alone, but in tandem with one of these other drugs.”

Of course, PCP is not the only drug police encounter it Berwyn. Since the beginning of 2010 the Berwyn police, other than patrol officers, seized 13,690 grams of marijuana, 7,540 grams of cocaine, 627 grams of heroin and 1,290 prescription pills.

The Berwyn Police Department has no current statistics of PCP seized.

“The problem with liquid PCP is that you can’t measure it at the police station,” Sgt. Oschner said. “What gets recovered is sent to the State Police Crime Lab for weight and analysis. Once we get a result, the lab reports are used in court as a supplement, but the findings are not made part of the original police report.”

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