ZOMBIE ATTACKS: Over 50 colleagues of NYC paramedic bitten in face have suffered attacks

A teenager took a bite out of a FDNY paramedic Jenna Piscitello’s face last week.Anthony Almojera/Twitter

New York City medics are under siege.

Fifty-two paramedics and emergency medical technicians have been attacked so far this year — a trend which, if it continues, would result in a serious spike in assaults on such frontline workers, a union head told The Post. 

The concerns come on the heels of a disturbing incident involving a crazed teenager who took a Hannibal Lecter-like bite out of a paramedic’s facelast week.

If the disturbing trend continues, more than 200 EMTs and paramedics will suffer similar battle scars this year — a 43 percent surge from the 140 assaulted in 2020 — doing a job that is inherently dangerous.

“Lack of respect to men and women in uniform, no consequences to career criminals, the public is well aware of the bail reform, there’s simply no consequences to committing crimes,” said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors union.

And the terrifying tally of “kicks, bites, spits, death threats” is probably higher.

If the trend continues, there will be a 43 percent uptick from 2020 in paramedics assaulted in NYC.
Shutterstock

“Many of our assaults go unreported due to our members knowing the prosecutors won’t do anything to the offenders,” Barzilay charged, citing figures from internal reports.

He said EMTs are dealing with more individuals with mental health issues due to the “COVID lockdown” and “the past year of people not being able to go about their daily routine has taken a toll on many.”

In the horrific March 5 incident, Jenna Piscitello, 28, who started as an EMT and became a paramedic in 2019, was bitten in the face in Brooklyn after she and her crew responded to a call for a patient with “altered mental status.”

Piscitello said a 17-year-old girl was trying to run out of the house, and kept falling. But, she said, the teen was not threatening until first responders tried to get her onto a stretcher. 

“She just wrapped her legs around my torso, her arms around my neck and just took a nice big chomp out of my face,” Piscitello recounted. “She was like on me for almost a minute. It felt like an eternity.”

The paramedic received four stitches at the hospital and was scheduled to see a plastic surgeon. The teen was charged with assault in the second degree and assault with intent to cause physical injury, police and sources told The Post.

Oren Barzilay said many of the attacks on EMTs have gone unreported.
Natan Dvir

Two of Piscitello’s FDNY colleagues started a GoFundMe campaign to help the Staten Island resident.

The shocking story is not an outlier, sources previously told The Post.

Another EMS member had his thumb chomped on during a call in the Bronx on Feb. 27 and there were reports of a first responder also getting bitten in the borough March 4, the sources said.

Despite the attack, Piscitello remains undaunted:“This incident isn’t going to ever stop from me continuing to be as compassionate as I am with people.”

‘Devil’s breath’ aka scopolamine: can it really zombify you?

The substance has been blamed for thousands of crimes in South America. Now there are reports of the incapacitating drug being used in street robberies in Paris. From use by Nazis to obstetricians, it certainly has a colourful history

One of the most enduring hoaxes you might hear in a backpacker hostel is that of the drug-soaked business card: someone hands you their card, and the drug is instantly absorbed by your skin. You fall into a zombie-like state, where you will do anything for your attacker, from empty out your bank account to pull a trigger on someone.

The drug is burandanga, or scopolamine, derived from nightshade plants, and there are countless stories about how criminals in Colombia and Ecuador use the drug, which is said to remove a person’s free will, to assault victims or rob them. It is also known as “devil’s breath” and has been described as “the most dangerous drug in the world”. It’s hard to know which are urban myths and which are genuine. The US’s Overseas Security Advisory Council warns travellers in Quito about the dangers of falling victim to a scopolamine attack, and refers to “unofficial estimates” – it doesn’t say where this figure is from – of 50,000 scopolamine incidents there every year.

Now, according to reports, the drug has been used on “dozens” of victims in Paris, and three people have been arrested. The Daily Telegraph suggests that two women had encouraged their victims to breathe in the drug, then got the victims to take them home where they stole money and jewellery.

“You get these scare stories and they have no toxicology, so nobody knows what it is,” says Val Curran, professor of pharmacology at UCL’s Clinical Pharmacology Unit. “The idea that it is scopolamine is a bit far-fetched, because it could be anything.”

Dr Les King, chemist and former forensic scientist, agrees. The idea that someone could become zombified after someone blows powder into their face “seems pretty unlikely for a start”. There is no evidence it is being used in Europe, he says. “The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has never had any mention of scopolamine being used in this way.”

It would be hard to get hold of. “I think if you tried to order some scopolamine from a chemical company, they’d be reluctant to sell it to you,” says King. “It’s not a drug you can buy [on the street] in the way you might buy some other new psychoactive substance, some legal high, or whatever. It’s not available in that sense because it’s not a drug you would want to take for any pleasurable purpose.”

It is “horrible stuff”, says Curran. “When I used to give it to people [in experiments], they hated it – it makes your mouth really dry, it makes your pupils constrict. Certainly high doses would be completely incapacitating.” And does it remove free will? “It would completely zonk you out,” says Curran, “ but I don’t know about removing free will. It incapacitates you because you’d feel so drowsy, you wouldn’t remember what was going on. But you would do after huge doses of alcohol, or lots of other drugs like Valium or other benzodiazepine drugs.”

Scopolamine has marked amnesic effects, and is used in Alzheimer’s research. Mostly though, it is used at very low doses to treat motion sickness, usually though a transdermal patch.

It is one of those drugs with a rich backstory. It is said to be one of the first “truth serums”. In the early 20th century, it was administered by some doctors as a pain-relief drug – or rather a drug that led to the forgetting of pain – in childbirth until one obstetrician noticed how women who had been given it answered candidly to questions; he later wondered if it could be used when questioning people charged with crimes. It was used as evidence in some trials, but dubiously.

Then there are stories of it being used in Nazi Germany as an interrogation tool, and also in the middle ages by witches. “The degree to which any of this stuff is true is unknown,” says Curran. “There’s a lot of myth.”

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