Embalming Fluid as a Controlled Substance: The Rakim Shackleford Act

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Embalming Fluid as a Controlled Substance: The Rakim Shackleford Act

House Bill 278 (Public) Filed Monday, March 6, 2023


Earlier this spring, North Carolina was the first state to enact a bill to criminalize unauthorized  possession, use and sale of embalming fluid. The substance of the NC law – the first of its kind — as it was passed addresses the possession of and access to embalming chemical products as detailed in the law’s final draft and the details on its composition in the North Carolina House of Assembly.

In summary, the bill states that it’s unlawful for anyone who is not a funeral director, embalmer, or in training as one or the other to buy or even to possess embalming fluid. It also restricts anyone not legally qualified for direct preparation of a human body for a funeral or disposition from being able to purchase, possess, or use embalming chemicals.

Similar laws may soon be under consideration in other states, largely due to the prevalence of embalming fluid’s misuse and abuse by youth.

Used & abused

With its relative ease of acquisition, abuse of embalming fluid is becoming more and more widespread since it first became popular in the 1970’s by typically being added to cigars, cigarettes (tobacco and marijuana), and other drugs to be ingested, or sometimes directly imbibed from the bottle (to predictably dire effect).  The combination embalming fluid and marijuana, particularly together with PCP, creates a new substance commonly known on the street as  “fry”, though embalming fluid is known by, as of this writing, many other terms.

Because it’s fast and easy to get, embalming fluid seems often to be a favorite for kids, and the ingredients of embalming fluid seem to allow for a prolonged intoxication effect. Most favored method appears to be dipping marijuana cigarettes into it, sometimes alone, sometimes with additional drugs. Once dried, the cigarette is smoked. It’s also becoming standard simply to “vape” it — atomize the liquid embalming fluid directly in a device used for nicotine.

The practice is remarkably not new, though it isn’t exactly common. Studies were being done on the neurological effects of ingestion of embalming fluid as long ago as the 1980’s.

Who was Rakim Shackleford?

The bill is named in memory of 31-year old Rakim Jamar Shackleford, who struggled with addiction specifically to embalming fluid. Shackleford was killed (shot by his own mother) in a violent altercation instigated by himself while he was high, violent and delirious. To describe his story of drug abuse, experience using embalming fluid, the criminal consequences and his eventual death at the hands of his terrified family while high as harrowing is an understatement; regularly feared for her life when he was under the influence of the substance.  Shackleford had physically attacked – and shot at – her on multiple occasions previously.

And the case for which the bill was named has inspired more than legal considerations: Moms on a Mission (MOM) is a group developed with the explicit purpose of redeeming the experiences of mothers who have seen the ravages of drug abuse upon their children – whether in lives lost, incarceration, or other personal and devastating destruction. Shackleford’s own mother is a founding member.

It’s likely that further regulation and restriction on the more hazardous materials of the trade are yet to come.