Houston Grapples with Surge in PCP-Fueled DWI Cases, Becoming a Dangerous Driving Landscape

Houston Grapples with Surge in PCP-Fueled DWI Cases, Becoming a Dangerous Driving LandscapeSource: Wikipedia/See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Elliott Greene
Published on February 12, 2024

PCP, the hallucinogen known as "angel dust," is taking the driver’s seat in Houston's DWI cases, making the city's streets a dangerous drive. A staggering 16% of impaired driving incidents in Houston between 2013 and 2018 involved PCP, according to recent statistics from the Houston Forensic Science Center. Dr. Dayong Lee, one of the researchers at the center, pointed out that a worrying trend is emerging where those testing positive for PCP often have additional drugs in their system.

Officials are sounding the alarm over this unsettling trend, "This is scary," Dr. Peter Stout, CEO and president of the Houston Forensic Science Center, told KHOU. Stout elaborated on the severity of the issue, "You've got somebody driving a vehicle at 70 miles an hour down the road, you kind of want them there in the driver’s seat and aware of reality around them." In their report, Houston police also highlighted PCP’s increasing popularity among Houston drivers, with Sgt. Salvador Corral noted the difficulty in quantifying the full scope of drugged driving since trends shift and drivers often aren't tested for additional substances once one is detected.

Data from the Houston Forensic Science Center backs up the concerns. The report indicated that beyond alcohol and marijuana, PCP has emerged as a top substance found in drivers pulled over for DUI, with implications for public safety. The drug, which can be absorbed through the skin, also poses risks for law enforcement officers during stops. The issue is compounded as users often dip cigarettes or joints into PCP solutions, leading to severe detachment from their environments and potentially dangerous driving behaviors.

Interestingly, the demographic profile of PCP users is shifting, Stout revealed in a statement, "More women and younger people are using the drug." This shift indicates that PCP's grasp on Houston's population is tightening, with Sgt. Don Egdorf of the Houston Police Department describes encounters with PCP users as highly unpredictable. "When we’re dealing with somebody on PCP they have very cyclic behavior so one moment they might be very cooperative and the next moment they want to fight everybody and try to kill whoever is in front of them," Egdorf told the Houston Chronicle.

Despite the rise of fentanyl nationwide, it remains less prevalent in Houston, falling behind other substances like cannabinoids, Xanax, and cocaine. Houston Forensic Science Center data shows that while fentanyl has seen an increase from 2% of all positive drug tests in 2019 to 11% in 2023, it is not as widely abused in Houston as it is elsewhere in the country. James Miller, manager of the seized drugs division at the center, suggests this could be due to heroin’s historically lower presence in the area, affecting subsequent trends in drug use.