By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Percocet quickly became Luke's drug of choice. Though Luke was still dating Tina, he quit using heroin--cold turkey. He was proud of his willpower. And the pills allowed him to rationalize, minimize and justify his use of narcotics. Percocet isn't as bad as heroin. I'm not addicted like Tina. I need something to handle the pressure.
"Jason" says "you don't do Adderall for fun. It just helps you concentrate and stay up two days, drinking energy drinks." But after the tests were over, Luke had to take something to bring him down enough to sleep. For many of the students, that was the major appeal of the drugs that offered sleep such as Soma and Ambien.
Corey, a physics major, was prescribed Adderall in high school for ADD but rarely took it then. "I hated the way it made me feel," Corey says. "It deadens the creative side of you but sharpens the analytical side. I need it to do things like physics, but I hate having to do it. For AP [test] week, I took it and stayed up for three or four days straight. Then I wouldn't take it at all."
During his freshman year at a college out of state, Corey quit taking Adderall, but he filled his prescriptions and sold or traded them to other students. A three-month supply netted 100 pills that he could sell for $3 each. Adderall was more highly prized than Ritalin. "Adderall lasts six or seven hours," Corey says. "It gives you a little high, which can be dangerous if you like it. Ritalin lasts two or three hours and doesn't give you a high."
When Corey moved back to Dallas and enrolled at UTD, the pills went for only $2 each. "The market's so saturated," Corey says. He sold it to his buddies for $1 apiece.
Luke was getting a variety of pills from several UTD students and a Dallas drug dealer whom everybody called "Porn": Percocet, Valium, OxyContin, Xanax, Lortab, Soma. He preferred opiates and benzodiazepines (sedatives, muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety medications), but Luke would try almost anything once.
"If you wanted it," Corey says, "Luke could get it." Luke wasn't trying to make a lot of money, just support his own use. "He wouldn't give us anything he hadn't tried himself."
Pills had several advantages over cocaine, heroin, meth and other drugs: easy to take, easy to hide and relatively cheap. Xanax and Valium could be purchased for $2 to $3, with the higher-dosage pills going for a few dollars more. You could buy an evening of Percocet euphoria for $5, though some pills could cost more, depending on supply and demand.
At first, Corey was afraid of the pills Luke was using, which often had been cut with filler and repackaged by his dealer into generic capsules. "Then I tried Percocet," he says. "I really liked it. You take it and there's no grogginess. I could forget about the anxiety, the depression. That little thing in the back of your head goes away."
By the middle of their freshman year, many of Luke's friends, even high school holdouts, were smoking pot, eating 'shrooms, drinking alcohol and doing pills. Luke only rarely drank. The same bottle of Chivas Regal sat in his refrigerator for months. Luke knew the dangers of mixing pills and booze.
"We all researched drugs," Corey says, "but Luke was especially vigilant about it. There's a whole underground, really, of Internet drug users who give their opinions. You learn to trust each other, because they are usually right."
After injuring his hand at UPS, Luke was out of a job. His mother gave him $100 a week for spending money so he wouldn't have to work; his father was paying his tuition and rent. Though he bought Luke groceries, David resisted giving his son money, trying some tough love to get him to buckle down.
"He wasn't going to class," David says. After getting his grades, David tried to take Luke's car away from him. When Luke refused to give him the keys, David grabbed his son from the front seat and tried to pull him out. Luke backed down. David made Luke sign a contract that he would take at least 13 hours and pass 10, or Dad was ending the room and board.
The ugly confrontation distressed Sondra. "It got his attention," David says. "But Sondra thought I didn't love Luke."
Luke used his father's supposed stinginess as an excuse when he bumped up his sales of pills and weed, mostly schwag, low-grade pot purchased through a guy at UPS. Then Luke converted to selling hydro; one ounce of the high-grade pot could sell for $350 to $400. It meant higher profit and lower risk. (Possession of less than two ounces is considered for personal use, not distribution.) But pills were the most profitable.