One day last month, Rudolph Shannon was taking a shower when he suddenly leaped out of a second floor window in his Southeast home and charged toward a small creek nearby.
Shannon, 23, later said he had been out all night smoking the drug PCP, which is known as "angel dust" on the streets. The drug made him want to get into "more and better water," he said.
He was stopped by a patrol car several blocks from his house, naked and dripping wet. It took police reinforcements to subdue him and take him to St. Elizabeth's Hospital where his condition was diagnosed as "acute schizophrenic psychosis," an illness characterized by inability to control thoughts and actions.
Shannon is one of at least 1,000 Southeast young persons treated at St. Elizabeth's Area D Community Mental Heath Center over the last three years for schizophrenia after using PCP.
Phencyclidine, the scientific name for PCP, is legally produced as a white powder that is sold illegally on the streets for users who mix it with marijuana and smoke it or sniff it into the nostrils. Sometimes it is dissolved in water or alcohol, forming a clear fluid that is sprayed on parsley flakes and smokes.
Unlike the euphoric "highs" associated with marijuana, cocaine and other substances, users describe the effects of PCP as sensations of numbness, extreme parania, feelings of isolation, loss of body image, and the inability to control their thoughts and actions.
"When I did angel dust, my head was like it wanted to get somewhere else," Shannon said. "My eyes got real big and I moved a lot slower. I moved around talking a lot of trash. I would run to the bathroom a lot, and sometime when I would come down I had headaches."
In late 1973, staff members at Area D, which serves the southeast section of the city, noticed an "epidemic" of schizophrenia, the leading mental illness, among young mostly male patients which they later linked to PCP use.
Dr. Paul V. Luisada, deputy medical director of the center and author of two reports on the phenomenon, said he saw a "dramatic increase" in the number of patients who had hallucinations, acute paranoia, extremely violent outbreaks and other classic symptoms of schizophrenia.
"They acted like a lot of patients we get, making noises, screaming, talking to the walls and seeing things we didn't see," said supervisory psychiatric nurse Catherine Reddick, who assisted Luisada in the studies.
Unlike the usual schizophrenics, however, the new admissions generally have no history of psychosis, respond much slower to treatment, and show none of the "characteristic personality changes," that usually follow the illness, Lusiada said.
Like Shannon, many of the patients were brought to Area D by polic because of their "bizarre and viokent behavior," Luisada wrote. One man "attacked everyone in sight," another was found "singing naked in a supermarket," and a third was "choking a boy in an apartment corridor," thinking the boy was his son, although he had no son, according to Luisada.
PCP is a "fascinating and bewildering" drug to researchers, because taken in various amounts it can be a stimulant, a depressant, or an hallucinogen a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has noted.
NIDA warned that PCP can be mixed in almost any substance, and buyers often think they are getting LSD, pure marijuana, or some other drug and become PCP users unknowingly.
A report complete last week by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said PCP has replaced LSD as the primary hallucinogen sought by drug abusers. Emergency rooms, medical examiners and drug crisis centers report to DEA that it has risen from being the cause of 13 per cent of adverse reactions from drug use in 1973 to 43 per cent in late 1976.
The PCP abuse figures are probably much higher because medical persons often incorrectly diagnose its symptoms, DEA officials said.
Washington, Detroit and San Francisco are the leading PCP abuse centers, and rank highest among cities where illegal laboratories making the drug have been discovered.
Southeast is apparently the only section of Washington where any information on PCP use has been developed. The community mental health center there is run by the federal government under the direction of staff of St. Elizabeth Hospital.
The three other mental health centers in Washington are run by the D.C. government's Department of Human Resources.
DHR's narcotics treatment administrator, Fred West, the city's highest drug abuse official, said he has not information on PCP abuse.
"We haven't done a study on drug usage and I'm not ware of any," said Catherine Briggs, supervisor of DHR's emergency mental health services. Nor did Dr. George Franklin, head of DHR's Area C center, located at D.C. General Hospital have any knowledge of the problem, he said.
"I know it's a problem throughout the hospital (St. Elizabeths)," Luisade said. "It is a problem throughout the city and its beginning to be a bigger problem in the suburbs."
Luisada said that for "nearly two years, PCP was the leading cause of admissions" to the St. Elizabeths mental health center. The epidemic appears to have subsided in the last six months, he said.
"I think around here PCP is beginning to get a reputation as a drug that makes you crazy," Luisada said, However, a number of previously treated PCP patients have been brought to the hospital in psychotic condition after several bad experiences with the drug, he said.
Shannon, who was hospitalized for 12 days after his leap from the shower, was brought in again a few days after his release, after trying to jump from another window.
"I had a lot of things on my mind People at work were hassling me, giving me a hard time," Shannon said explaining why he took the drug again.
He said he first tried "angel dust," because he "wanted to experiment," after being freed of a heroin habit last year.
"Truthfully speaking. I mainly smoked 'angel dust' with women. It makes them defenseless, makes them easy to get along with. I would talk a little bit more. My rap was stronger," Shannon said.
Shannon said he had no trouble getting PCP because he "used to test it for a friend up in Northeast who would get it by the pound in plastic bags. I didn't always have money but I could still get it."
When he was first brought to the center, Shannon "walked, screamed, banged and talked to the walls," nurse Reddick said. Like most of the PCP psychotics, he refused food, and did not sleep for three or four days, staff members said.
"I don't even remember how I got here. I had hit my head and I didn't even know how I got the stitches," Shannon said as he was being released for the second time on Wednesday.
"We've never seen problems like this with any of the other drugs in the streets, amphetamines cause paranoia and some psychosis, but not like this, not as bad," Luisada said.
Reddick added that the "saddest thing is the type of person who enters into it - the youngsters."