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.
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 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.)