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.)
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.
Like Luke, who was majoring in electrical engineering, his friends at UTD were very smart, pursuing degrees in physics, math, engineering and computer science. All of them popped Adderall, an amphetamine, to stay awake through marathon study sessions. Despite its image as a study drug, no more potent than No-Doz, Adderall is a psycho-stimulant, says Jenson-Savoie of the Seay Center. "It increases heart rate, increases blood pressure. If you are snorting it, it goes right into your blood. You could blow your heart out."
"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.