Generation Rx

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

Luke and all his buddies heard they could buy pills on the Internet, but none of them did it. "Anthony" once ordered pot on the Internet from Canada; it worked, but he didn't repeat it. He didn't want a drug charge on his record.

A business major, Anthony finally tried Percocet out of boredom. "It didn't seem to be hurting Luke," Anthony says. "He said it made you feel great. He was so knowledgeable. He'd rattle off bad combinations and chemical structures. He was a walking pharmacist. That was part of the appeal to him. The other appeal--you're not supposed to do it."

But Anthony didn't want to get in too deep. "People aren't meant to feel that good all the time."

Luke with his girlfriend Tina, a heroin user who 
introduced him to opiates
Luke with his girlfriend Tina, a heroin user who introduced him to opiates

Luke at first struck "Christopher," an art and film major who transferred to UTD in September 2003, like a character in a comic book: larger than life, with a goatee, spike earrings, sideburns and an "I'm-a-tough-drug-dealer-don't-mess-with-me" pose.

"Then I realized he was a pretty smart guy," Christopher says. Luke could talk about anything, tailoring his conversation to whomever he was with: art, music, traveling, math, film and computers.

Luke turned Christopher on to Percocet. "I took my first one and painted for the better part of a day," he says. "It was like being stoned but not lazy." A day and a half later, Christopher took another one, but his body's reaction turned sour. "The entire world felt like different shades of gray, like a dull ache in my head."

He kept using it anyway. "It was almost like a ritual," he says. "You smoke pot, you do Adderall to study, then do pills, then alcohol on top of it." Nobody worried about overdosing, Christopher says. "Anyone in command of their faculties can keep from overdosing."

After partying his way through freshman year, Luke had focused on his studies with the help of Jason, a highly motivated student who tutored him in calculus and several other courses. "He was very intelligent," Jason says. "His only delusions were chemical."

By the end of 2003, Luke started making good grades and liked the feeling. Before winter break, he broke up with Tina for good. She'd been in and out of rehab, in and out of jail. "She used to love me," he told one friend. "Now she loves heroin." (Again in jail for possession of narcotics, Tina was unavailable for comment.)

Luke and a friend from high school spent a week over winter break in Amsterdam, stoner Shangri-la for its shops where pot and mushrooms are legally sold. Luke thought it would be fabulous to travel to a place where he could openly indulge in his favorite pastime. His mother knew that was one reason he was going, but thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, she gave him money anyway. She didn't want Luke smoking pot in the United States because it was illegal, but in Amsterdam, that wasn't an issue.

At the time, neither Sondra nor David saw any sign that Luke had a serious drug problem. When he told his mother about Tina's addiction, Sondra asked point-blank if he was using hard drugs. He denied it.

From Amsterdam Luke brought back photos of rainy streets, bars, old buildings and some of their purchases--leggy 'shrooms and marijuana buds with names like Super Silver Haze, Poison, AK-47 and Buddha's Sister--to show the guys back home. He wasn't scoring any pills, though: too risky, he thought.

A vacation video shot by a friend shows Luke firing up fat blunts, smoking and laughing, smoking and laughing. He seems to be having a great time, except for a hacking cough and one vomiting episode. Too much booze, or withdrawal symptoms? In Dallas, Luke was taking two to four Percocets a day. When he couldn't get the drug or something similar, Luke experienced bouts of vomiting, stomach pains, cold sweats and migraines.

When he returned to Dallas, there were other signs that his pill habit was getting out of control. "He'd start gradually and take one Xanax," Rosemary says. "Now one doesn't feel as good, so he'd take two." Rosemary noticed that Luke was popping different drugs at the same time to see how they interacted with each other. He once passed out with a cigarette in his mouth and burned himself and a couch.

Still, none of his friends confronted him. Their attitude was: He's Luke. He knows what he's doing. "I don't think any of us felt it was our place to say something," Jason says. "Luke was going to do what he was going to do."

And most of his friends were doing it, too.

When Luke asked his father for funds to go to Mexico over spring break, David refused. "The only reason to go to Mexico," David told him, "is sex and drugs." Luke responded with "Well, why did you let me go to Amsterdam?" David had no answer.

"It hit me like 'wham,'" David says, hitting his forehead with a smack. "I knew we had a big problem."

Christopher remembers thinking sometime after spring break in 2004 that Luke, Jason and "Shelley" were taking so many pills, it was like they were in a "race to see who would screw up first."
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