Jess, a 17-year-old Corona High School dropout, was "just trying to get a new high" when he first tried PCP in junior high school.
"I was just smokin' pot--the usual stuff--drinkin' beer," Jess said. "Then PCP came along and I tried that."
PCP or phencyclidine, a highly toxic, psychoactive anesthetic popularly known as "angel dust," has become "one of the most popular drugs in Corona these days," according to Corona Detective Tom Evans, a specialist in drug investigations.
On a recent Saturday night, Corona police made nine separate arrests for possession of PCP, said Lt. Fred Biggs, commander of detectives. Although the Police Department has not kept long-term statistics on PCP arrests, both Biggs and Evans are convinced that PCP use in their city is skyrocketing.
"I'm starting to see more and more PCP violations than even the common marijuana and heroin users," Evans said. When he made his first PCP arrest just a few years ago, the detective recalled, "I didn't know what I had; I hadn't seen or really heard much about it."
Today, he said, the drug is well-known by police officers and readily available to Corona youngsters, even those not yet in their teens. Jess and his friends first bought the drug from a schoolmate whose older brother sold drugs.
"It's made out in Riverside or San Bernardino . . . and it's easy to find, real easy," said Ernie, 18.
"You can get it any night you want," added his friend, Pat, also 18.
Like Jess, both Ernie and Pat dropped out of Corona High School. The three teen-agers agreed to talk to a reporter about their use of illegal drugs on the condition that their last names not be printed.
The teen-agers and their friends most often ingest PCP by smoking cigarettes that have been soaked with a solution of the drug, Jess said. The PCP-laced cigarettes are known as "superkools," after the brand of cigarettes commonly used.
(A single "superkool" usually contains enough PCP "to get 15 to 20 people stoned," Evans said.)
"I did superkools last weekend," Pat boasted. "It messed my world all up.
"We got it out in--where were the bootleggers? Home Gardens?--Home Gardens. We were out at a liquor store. That's how easy it was to get.
"There was a guy at the counter," Pat said. "We asked him if he had any superkools. He said, 'Yes.' "
Pat bought one PCP-laced cigarette for $10, he said.
"Last weekend I was already drunk," Pat said. "I was already wasted. . . . It was just a way to get higher."
Shared His Superkool
Pat shared the superkool with a friend that night and drank whiskey, wine and sloe gin, "plus a lot of beer. Plus a lot of (marijuana).
"That's a pretty hard night." Pat smiled at his friends. "I paid for it the next morning. I threw up six times."
The PCP, Pat said, altered his perceptions of time and sound and induced paranoid hallucinations. "We'd be walking and hear loud sounds, then realize they were only whispers. . . . It seemed like it took about one hour to walk across a football field."
While walking home, Pat said, "I thought a gang was behind us; I thought I was going to get stabbed. . . ."
"I was breathing fast but I thought I couldn't breathe, so I thought I was going to die--I just freaked out."
Pat had used PCP between 15 and 20 times before, he said, but this time he "didn't like the effect. It was really nice and stuff to that point, but--poof!--it exploded."
While Pat said the bad trip made him decide to quit using PCP, his friend, Jess, plans to continue taking the drug.
PCP "makes you feel numb," he said, "like you're drugged, all washed up."
Jess said he has taken PCP between 10 and 20 times, has eaten hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, used cocaine and amphetamines, and taken LSD "many times, seven or eight times."
Several current Corona High School students said alcohol, marijuana and cocaine remain the most commonly used drugs among their peers. Some said they had not heard of any PCP use among their schoolmates.
Used Only Once
Ernie said he has used PCP only once. "We were at a party . . . and did two superkools and tequila shots.
"I was so wasted at the time, I just wanted to get off it. . . . I couldn't go to sleep; I stumbled a little."
The drug's unpredictable combinations of effects prompted an addition to drug users' lingo, Evans said. "You have uppers. You have downers. They're calling PCP an inside-outer."
Besides its hallucinogenic effects, PCP often has a "stuporous" effect on its users, Evans said. "They'll sit in one place for an hour without moving."
When PCP users are startled or scared, however, they will often fly into a rage, Biggs said, injuring themselves and others because "they don't feel any pain."
PCP users commonly display vertical and horizontal nystagmus--rapid, involuntary eye movements, Evans said, and "for some reason, people on PCP like to take their clothes off and run around naked."
Several PCP arrests in Corona have followed complaints to police "of people running around their neighborhood naked. Or on Main Street or 6th Street," two of the city's major thoroughfares, Evans said.
While a typical PCP trip lasts between 4 and 8 hours, Evans said, the chemical also collects in fatty tissues, where it is stored and later released when the fat is burned, causing unexpected flashbacks.
"For no apparent reason, you're loaded again," Biggs said.
Both Jess and Pat agreed that after vigorous exercise--playing racquetball, for example--they have felt like they were again on PCP.
The simple chemical reactions and inexpensive materials used to produce PCP are responsible for the drug's growing availability and popularity, Evans said.
Simple to Make
"You could make PCP in your bathroom," he said. "It is very simple to manufacture, . . . but very hazardous to manufacture because of the chemicals involved."
Although Corona police suspect much of the PCP used in their northwestern corner of Riverside County is produced locally, Evans said, efforts to uncover local manufacturers have been generally unsuccessful.
And the police do not foresee victory in a war against PCP use.
"PCP--like heroin and marijuana--is here to stay," Evans said. "You don't have to travel any great distances to get it; it doesn't involve smuggling from Columbia or Mexico into the United States. It doesn't involve great expense. . . . It's an easy drug."