It was the early morning hours of September 1, 2017, when a bewildered Matthew James Phelps dialed 911 and told the dispatcher he believed he had stabbed his wife to death. Phelps claimed that he had been having a dream, when he woke up he was covered in blood. Lauren Ashley-Nicole Phelps, 29, was rushed to WakeMed but it was already too late. She was pronounced dead on arrival.
Phelps later admitted to investigators that he had taken more than the recommended amount of Coricidin Cough and Cold tablets that night. Coricidin, which contains dextromethorphan (DXM), has been used as a cheap and legal means for teens and young adults to get high. Phelps told investigators that he often took more than the recommended amount because it made him “feel good” and to help combat insomnia.
The harm reduction website Erowid reports a dextromethorphan “trip” can result in different effects depending upon the dosage taken. Low doses can result in mild stimulant effects, while higher dosages can produce hallucinations, delusions, near-death experiences, and the percieved contact with spiritual or extraterrestrial beings.
While there are few studies on the long-term effects of dextromethorphan abuse, one case study conducted by A Hinsberger, M.D.; V Sharma, M.B.; and D Mazmanian, Ph.D. has suggested that long-term consequences of abusing the drug could possibly include manic-like episodes in some individuals. These symptoms include moods that can shift from mild euphoria to aggressive behavior, as well as grandiose delusions, such as the belief by the user that they are in contact with spiritual beings.
Phelps is the first person to be accused of murder while claiming to be high on the drug. He is currently being held without bail in the Wake County Jail.
Fox News reports that prior to his arrest, Phelps had been an aspiring preacher, having studied missions and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College. He was currently employed as a landscaper.
Phelps and his wife, Lauren, met in middle school but were able to reconnect through Instagram later in life. In 2014, the pair began to date and by 2016 they decided to marry. The couple, who had both been devoted Star Wars fans, had gone all out with a Star Wars-themed wedding, complete with light saber battle.
Just 10 hours before her murder, Lauren took to Facebook to promote her side business, Scentsy wax melts. There were no signs based on social media posts or statements from friends and neighbors of the couple that there were any problems in their relationship prior to the slaying. Prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty in Phelps’ case.