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Police analyze PCP after 2 New Jersey children killed

Osvaldo Rivera CBS Philly

(CBS/AP) CAMDEN, N.J. - Authorities are trying to determine if a contaminated batch of PCP is going around Camden after a child was decapitated and two other children's throats were slashed by people believed to be on the illegal drug.

Law enforcement has begun analyzing batches of so-called "wet," a combination of PCP and marijuana, circulating in the southern New Jersey city, a locale that continually ranks as one of the nation's most dangerous.

"Is there some type of alteration that's being done that has triggered this?" Police Chief J. Scott Thomson asked in light of the gruesome attacks on children. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is working with the police department, Thomson said.

A 6-year-old boy was killed Sunday trying to save his 12-year-old sister when they were assaulted in their home. Both were asleep when someone cut his throat then attacked his sister, police said.

A man known in the neighborhood, Osvaldo Rivera, has been charged, and police say he admitted he smoked "wet" in the hours before the attack.

Almost two weeks earlier, a Camden woman decapitated her child then killed herself, police say. Preliminary tests show she had PCP in her system and police believe she also smoked "wet."

The police chief said PCP has played a role in 10 homicides in Camden in the last four or five years. The drug sells for about $10 a vial.

While it is not new to the area, emergency room doctors say they have seen an increasing number of patients on the drug in the past few years. Users can become agitated and aggressive or sleepy and incoherent, but are rarely aggressively violent.

Dr. Al Sacchetti, chief of emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, said doctors treat at least one or two people each day on PCP.

Sacchetti said PCP users tend to engage in "non-specific aggressive behavior" and are often more of a danger to themselves than to others. PCP users are mostly vocally aggressive, Sacchetti said, calling the recent tragedies "unusual."

Dr. Matthew Salzman, an emergency room doctor and toxicologist at Cooper University Hospital, said he has never heard of anyone on PCP harming someone. But the drug does break down the connection between the mind and body, he said, leading to "yelling, thrashing and flailing," as well as incoherent speech.

"For all intents and purposes, it's almost like they're psychotic," Salzman said.

Bail for Rivera, 31, was set at $5 million at a Tuesday hearing. During an interrogation, Rivera asked: "How bad did I hurt them?" assistant prosecutor Christine Shah said during the hearing.

Rivera, who did not enter a plea, is charged with murder and attempted murder, but prosecutors said more charges will be filed. Authorities said he was convicted on a drug charge in 2009.

The children were being watched by a 14-year-old girl, authorities said. The teen, who was unharmed, was caring for them because their mother recently underwent surgery and was in the hospital.

More on CrimesiderSeptember 4, 2012 - Osvaldo Rivera, NJ man, was high on PCP-laced marijuana when he stabbed two children, police saySept. 3, 2012 - Six-year-old boy stabbed to death, 12-year-old sister's throat slit in NJ attack