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PCP's powerful cousin: 3 things cops need to know about TCP

Subjects under the influence of TCP pose a significant threat to police officers - encounters are often tense, dynamic and very dangerous


In a high-profile officer-involved shooting from earlier this year, Terence Crutcher was shot by Officer (and Drug Recognition Expert) Betty Shelby in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She reported that Crutcher appeared to be under the influence of a drug. The toxicology results later revealed that Crutcher tested positive for PCP and TCP. While PCP is recognizable to most officers (I outlined officer safety tips on how to engage subjects on PCP here), TCP is not widely known. Here’s what you should know about this significant threat to police officers.

1. What is TCP?

TCP is short for tenocyclidine. Research was conducted on the drug as a treatment for traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injuries back in the 1970s. Now, it is a Schedule I drug that is not widely seen on the streets. By being categorized as Schedule I (the same category that heroin and LSD fall under, among others), the government has determined TCP has no medicinal value and it cannot be prescribed or possessed in the United States. TCP is a dissociative anesthetic and is much more potent than its chemical cousin, PCP. In fact, TCP has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties.

Any cop that has had to arrest a person on PCP knows that it is a dicey situation. When you add TCP into the mix (as was the case in Tulsa), the danger is even more amplified.

2. TCP potency

TCP is almost 50 percent more potent than PCP. What does that mean for officers on the street? Imagine trying to arrest a suspect who is on PCP. He or she will have an inability to concentrate or think clearly and might be catatonic and/or hallucinating. These symptoms would be amplified considerably if that person is on TCP. Imagine if you had four shots of tequila. Now, what if those tequila shots were 50 percent larger than an average shot of tequila? How much more inebriated would you be? Hallucinations might be more amplified for the suspect on TCP than if he or she was on PCP. The subject’s anxiety and paranoia may also be amplified.

TCP dissipates quickly from the blood, with a half-life of approximately two hours. TCP can be detected in the blood and urine if you must do a toxicology test in a criminal investigation. Detecting the presence of TCP depends on many factors including the individual's metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity and health condition. However, TCP usually can be detected in the urine for two to five days, in the blood for up to 24 hours, in saliva for one to five days and in hair up to 90 days later.

3. Signs and symptoms

Individuals under the influence of TCP will have the same signs and symptoms as a person that is under the influence of PCP. Since it is a dissociative anesthetic, officers can expect to find the following:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus will be very pronounced. In fact, they may have resting nystagmus. This occurs when the suspect looks at an object and then nystagmus starts prior to moving that object. Vertical gaze nystagmus will be present as well.
  • Their pulse rate, as well as their blood pressure, will be elevated.
  • Their pupil size and pupillary reaction to light will be normal, but it is not advisable to shine a light in the suspect’s eyes. Stimulus can cause the person to become violent. It is better to just note the size of the pupils and move on. If you are asked later in court why you didn’t check for pupillary reaction to light, just remind them that it is for your safety as well as the suspect’s.
  • They could have a blank stare, often called the “1,000 mile stare.” It is as if they are looking through you.
  • They can be agitated and prone to violence. This is a serious situation and you should refer back to my prior article on how to deal with a person on PCP.
  • Their body temperature can be elevated. Officers may see profuse sweating. It is not uncommon that people under the influence will strip off their clothes due to the heat. A good example of this can be seen here.
  • Muscle rigidity will be pronounced. Some officers have told me that they have difficulty with TASER effectiveness with people on PCP. Anecdotal evidence shows that this may be due to their extreme muscle rigidity and the inability of the TASER probes to penetrate because of this rigidity. This makes handcuffing difficult.
  • Users will be confused. Compliance will be very difficult. As an example, if you told them to put their hands up and not move, they may put their hands up but walk away from you.
  • Their behavior will be cyclic. One person I once came into contact with who was under the influence just repeated his name over and over again after I inquired about his identity. In his mind, he answered once. In reality, he said his name about 10 times.
  • Users may be non-responsive. You can give them all of the commands in your playbook, but they are no good if the user can’t respond.

These symptoms of influence can create a very hazardous situation for police officers, the public and the subject. These encounters are tense, dynamic and very dangerous. TCP is not a new drug, but it is gaining interest among drug users who are looking for new and dangerous highs.

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