Longform

Generation Rx

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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."

Shelley had been Luke's close friend for four months before they started a romantic relationship in April. Drug use brought them together at first. On Friday nights, everybody would hang out, pop Percocet and play video games like City of Heroes. Shelley liked Luke because he was so straightforward and happy-go-lucky. But like some of the drugs they'd tried, Shelley and Luke were a volatile combination.

From a small town near Austin, Shelley had struggled with depression most of her life. When she was 9, her mother shot herself to death, leaving Shelley to discover the body.

Though very anti-drug in high school, Shelley had since struggled with addiction. During her first semester at UTD, she and her roommate smoked pot one night. "That's what started it," Shelley says. "I have an addictive personality."

That led to a brief fling with cocaine abuse. In 2002 Shelley, her roommate and their boyfriends were arrested and charged with possession. The terms of her probation--monthly drug tests, staying away from other users--kept Shelley sober for almost a year.

But when she started hanging out with Luke in January 2004, Shelley was again using multiple drugs--some illegal, some prescribed for her by a psychiatrist. Diagnosed as bipolar at the beginning of her sophomore year, Shelley was taking Xanax for panic attacks; Lamactil, a mood stabilizer; Ambien and other sleep aids for insomnia and night terrors; and a high dosage of Seroquel, an anti-psychotic. Sometimes she took them as directed; other times she would crush a pill and snort it for a more immediate reaction. If she had a month before her next drug test, Shelley might smoke pot.

"I used to have hallucinations," Shelley says. "I kept darting my eyes around because I was seeing things. There were times when I had to throw away my car keys or I'd fly away."

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Glenna Whitley

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