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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Embalming fluid is becoming an increasingly popular drug for users looking for a new and different high — one that often comes with violent and psychotic side effects.

Users — mainly teen-agers and people in their 20s — are buying tobacco or marijuana cigarettes that have been soaked in the fluid, then dried. They cost about $20 apiece and are called by nearly a dozen names nationwide, including “wet,” “fry” and “illy.”

“The idea of embalming fluid appeals to people’s morbid curiosity about death,” said Dr. Julie Holland of New York University School of Medicine. “There’s a certain gothic appeal to it.”

Formaldehyde can be bought in drug stores and beauty supply stores. (It is an ingredient in nail care products). It is also available in many school science labs. In addition, there have been reports of embalming fluid thefts from funeral homes in Louisiana and New York.

Although there are no national statistics on usage, many drug experts say it appears to have spread from the inner cities to well-to-do suburban neighborhoods and college campuses.

“Whether they live in a million-dollar house or a $5,000 house, kids who are smoking pot or crack and are looking for a different type of high are turning to wet,” said Julie Kirlin, a juvenile probation officer in Reading, about 50 miles from Philadelphia.

Embalming fluid is a compound of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents. The high depends on what the user is really getting: Often the drug PCP is mixed in. In fact, PCP has gone by the street name “embalming fluid” since the 1970s.

Twenty Houston-area users interviewed for a 1998 study by the Texas Commission on Drug Abuse said the effects include visual and auditory hallucinations, euphoria, a feeling of invincibility, increased pain tolerance, anger, forgetfulness and paranoia. Stranger symptoms reported include an overwhelming desire to disrobe and a strong distaste for meat.

Other symptoms may include coma, seizures, kidney failure and stroke. The high lasts from six hours to three days.

“Fry

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users are described like those who do a lot of inhalants — they’re just spaced-out, dissociative,” said Jane Maxwell of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Community Epidemiology Work Group. When they’ve taken PCP, “they come into the emergency room and are just wild. They have to be strapped down in their beds or they destroy the room.”

In the Philadelphia suburb of Morrisville, a 14-year-old boy fatally stabbed a 33-year-old neighbor more than 70 times last year after smoking wet. The boy, who said he took wet to quiet the voices in his head, is serving a seven-year sentence.

“This is a violent drug, and it will turn into a big fire if it’s not watched very closely,” Kirlin said.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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