Generation Rx

Adrift in a sea of psychotropic pharmacology, it's easy for a kid to drown.

Luke didn't tell most of his buddies about trying heroin. They looked down on people who used heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. Stuff that junkies use, that can get you addicted. Though one close friend believed Luke turned to drugs because of depression, most of the others thought he just enjoyed getting high.

"I don't think he was addicted," says "Rosemary," who dated a friend of Luke's. "I think he was bored and cocky."


Among his circle of friends at UTD, Luke became known as the expert on illegal and legal drugs, which was saying something. All of them had bookmarked erowid.org, the Web site known for its broad and deep "vaults" of information on recreational drug use. Operated out of California by two people known only as "Earth" and "Fire," Erowid taps into the collective knowledge, experience and enthusiasm of users all over the world.

Plano police Detective Courtney Perot, who investigates overdoses--both fatal and nonfatal--consults Erowid regularly. "You have people using the drug talking about the effects right there," Perot says. "Some of the information obtained on these Web sites is beneficial--talking about the dangers of using various drugs. But there are so many different sites out there that advocate and encourage usage."

You can search Erowid for information on plants, herbs, psychoactives, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and new "smart drugs" that supposedly sharpen your brain. Consider this enthusiastic report from an OxyContin user: "The drug...gives me the most euphoric high I've ever felt. I have had a lot of experience with other substances and none compare to OC. I never take more than one 40 mg pill crushed and taken orally. The effects usually hit around 45 minutes...The euphoric high will last until I pass out. Smoking weed while on OC intensifies the opiate 'buzz' for me. I won't take OC without weed."

Many of the experience reports, however, are warnings. And the range of substances seems endless. Take this from a guy who crushed up morning glory seeds (yes, flower seeds), mixed them with water and drank the potion: "From my experience I CANNOT recommend their use, it was probably the single most unpleasant experience of my life. Ten hours of intense panic, (imagined) suffocation, seemingly endless, painful hurling accompanied by crazy delusions that you are going to die and that your organs went through a blender are not my idea of a good time."

Other popular sites for illicit use include dancesafe.org, which caters to the rave/Ecstasy crowd, bluelight.nu, junkylife.com, pillreports.com, shroomery.org, ecstasy.org, thedea.org, Lycaeum.org, crazymeds.com and maps.org (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). These Web sites weren't meant to be a source of trivia. Teen users and abusers do their research here, in the privacy of their bedrooms.

In a study released in April, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reported that, for the first time in 17 years, teenagers were more likely to have abused prescription and over-the-counter medications than illicit drugs like cocaine, Ecstasy, methamphetamines, heroin and LSD. About one in five teens has abused a prescription painkiller to get stoned. Eighteen percent reported nonmedical use of Vicodin, 10 percent admitted they'd used OxyContin and 10 percent Ritalin or Adderall.

"The current favorite is Xanax," says Gayle Jensen-Savoie, director of Seay Behavioral Health Center, an adolescent psychiatric and chemical dependency unit in Plano. "It has a numbing effect. If you are overstimulated in so many areas, with Xanax you can handle it all. In the last three months, for the first time we had to detox several kids of Xanax, which we never had to do before. They were probably taking 16 a day. That's a huge amount. That's deadly, and then they drink."

In 2004 there were 10 fatalities from mixed-drug overdoses recorded in Collin County, surpassing those from cocaine or heroin.

One fascinating source of information is posted by the Drug Enforcement Agency: the Microgram Bulletin, which for 36 years was secretly published for forensic chemists and narcotics officers (www.usdoj.gov/dea/programs/forensicsci/microgram). The monthly newsletter issues intelligence briefs and alerts describing seizures of street drugs, as well as methods of manufacture and smuggling.

The DEA decided in 2003 to make the Microgram Bulletin public after recognizing the explosion of information and misinformation about illegal drugs on the Internet. The DEA now advertises on Google. Plug in Percocet or Valium, and a sponsored link to the DEA pops up: "Read Our Consumer Alert Before You Buy Drugs Online. Learn The Law!"

Luke scoured the Internet to study medications and their effects and interactions. "If you wanted to know something, you asked Luke," says "Roman," a business major. "He was always known as the experimenter among us."

Luke's first introduction to pills apparently occurred between high school graduation and the start of his freshman year in college, when he got a job at UPS. It was hard physical labor with attendant muscle aches; Luke hated the work but liked being around the blue-collar guys who he thought were tough, real, ghetto. UPS cohorts introduced Luke to Percocet, a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone, an opiate-based painkiller.

Oxycodone has been around since the '20s, but its use exploded after 1996, when Purdue Pharma began producing the controlled-release pill OxyContin, which is highly addictive. (In 2003 talk-show host Rush Limbaugh went public with his addiction to OxyContin after his name surfaced in a narcotics investigation.)

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