Adrift in a sea of psychotropic pharmacology, it's easy for a kid to drown
May 19, 2005
Source: The Dallas Observer
Adrift in a sea of psychotropic pharmacology, it's easy for a kid to drown.
By Glenna Whitley
You couldn't miss him: a teenager dressed always in black, with Elvis
sideburns and a hard-charging way of bounding up the stairs, as if
life were moving too slowly for him. In the same class as my oldest son at
the Science and Engineering Magnet at Townview, occasionally at our house for
all-night LAN parties, Luke Stone was likable, smart and had an appetite for
adventure, the guy willing to try anything once. He was a natural
leader, a person who drew people from all walks of life into his orbit with
his energy and enthusiasm.
He also had a sweet side. He'd grown up going to church and carried a
picture of Jesus in his wallet. He was drawn to beautiful, troubled
girlfriends who needed rescuing. Luke Stone was your basic good kid.
But on May 14 a year ago, when Luke was a 20-year-old student at the
University of Texas at Dallas, his daring nature killed him. The
coroner's verdict: accidental drug overdose.
This isn't another "drugs are bad for you" story. It is a trip into
another world, one far different from that of Luke's parents--even though
they'd grown up in the '60s and '70s and had their own encounters with
illegal drugs. David and Sondra Stone viewed their experimentation,
particularly with marijuana, as a normal part of growing up. They didn't want
their kids to become addicts, of course, but as long as they stayed away from
"hard drugs" like cocaine and heroin, they figured the kids would come
out all right, just like they had.
Luke Stone's parents know that isn't true anymore. They didn't
realize the landscape of substance abuse has radically changed.
Today, kids Luke's age swim in a sea of psychotropic pharmacology--
pills, potions and powders legally prescribed for everything from
depression to attention deficit disorder. When they want to get high, they're
more likely to turn to benzodiazepines, a class of drugs like Valium that treat
anxiety and panic attacks. Instead of shooting heroin, they score synthetic
opiates such as Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid or Tylenol with codeine. To get
a buzz or pull an all-nighter for an exam, they pop pills like Ritalin and
Adderall, amphetamines that treat ADD.
It makes sense. You don't have to find a drug dealer to get Xanax.
You just have to rummage in Mom's medicine chest. You don't need to sneak
around to score Adderall. A pediatrician prescribed it because you were
driving your teachers crazy. Why not trade a few Adderall to your roommate,
under the care of a psychiatrist for panic disorder, for some of his Xanax?
If you get caught--well, parents who discover a kid snitching a
Lortab react differently from those who find a crack pipe or syringe.
The explosion in pharmaceuticals has been magnified by the
Internet. Not only are there more psychotropic drugs to choose from, it's easier
than ever to learn what to take, how much to take and what effects to
anticipate. Luke scoured sites like erowid.org--"documenting the complex
relationship between humans and psychoactives"--for information and "trip reports" on
everything from peyote to Percocet. From there, teens are one click away from an
illegal online pharmacy, a cyber medicine cabinet offering quick,
A 2004 study at Columbia University found that only 6 percent of
157 Web sites selling medications actually required a prescription. And
last month the DEA arrested 20 people, from Tyler, Texas, to Bombay, India, as
part of "Operation Cyber Chase," targeting an illegal international ring that used
more than 200 Web sites to distribute prescription narcotics,
amphetamines and steroids.
Web sites to replace them will pop up overnight like psilocybin
mushrooms sprouting in a cow patty.
Fascinated by illicit pharmaceuticals, Luke created a "drug log" of
those he'd tried and their effects. He wasn't alone. Most of his friends
at UTD used pills--in addition to the college mainstays of pot and
alcohol--and turned to Luke for information. He knew what medications could be
taken together and what to stay away from. "Luke was so smart," one
friend says. Intelligence, experimentation and a young man's belief in his own
immortality seduced Luke into believing he knew what he was doing
and could control the outcome. But dead people don't post trip reports on the Internet.
At age 13, Luke Stone spent 17 days in Australia and New Zealand,
one of the kids chosen for a "student ambassador" program. "He came home a
different kid, a world traveler, you know," says his mother, Sondra Stone
Fishman, who works out of her Oak Cliff home doing computer billing for doctors.
Talking about Luke, Sondra flashes between pride and sudden grief, in a
place she calls "beyond tears."
The older of her two sons, Luke had never been ordinary: whip-
smart, reading before he went to kindergarten, playing chess at 7. They finally
put Luke in a Montessori school to challenge him more. An athlete built like a
brick outhouse, stocky and strong, Luke was the kid who had to be the
pitcher in baseball or the goalie in roller hockey. He thrived on being in the
pressure point, the one who made the difference in the game.
"Luke had tremendous drive," says his father, David Stone.
"Wherever he was going, he was going there like a steam engine. I was proud of him."
But David says his oldest son was always a challenge to raise.
Luke would debate anyone about anything. "His mind was so quick,"
David says. "Luke believed he could outthink you. That's what got him into
trouble. He wasn't as smart as he thought he was."
David and Sondra married in 1983. After Luke was born a year later,
Sondra became a stay-at-home mom and loved it. Sondra--not Luke--cried the
first day she dropped him off at preschool.
The couple divorced in the mid-'90s after years of discord. One
conflict, David says, was disciplining their strong-willed son. David, a
military veteran, thought Luke needed tough love. A self-described former
hippie, Sondra believed in a softer approach.
Luke's computer and math skills got him accepted at the Science and
Engineering Magnet at Townview, recently named by Newsweek the
sixth-best school in the nation for its percentage of students passing Advanced
Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. Luke wanted to study
computer science and get an internship with Texas Instruments. If
Luke was a bit of a nerd, though, he was also recognized as an outspoken leader.
Girls loved him. He was self-assured, cool, the guy who would
instigate trouble at the back of the room then sit back and enjoy the
fallout. By ninth grade, Luke had adopted a man-in-black persona. He got a
couple of piercings and spent evenings flailing away on his drum set as rap or
alt-metal music by Static-X and Rob Zombie blasted from his room.
He also went to a Disciples of Christ church with his mother and
younger brother every week, and it was at church camp the summer after his
freshman year that he first got caught with pot. Luke claimed the marijuana
found in his backpack belonged to another kid. Though their minister and the
camp director vouched for his story, Luke and the other boy were charged
with possession. Luke and his mother had to attend counseling sessions
once a week for a while.
Sondra and David had grown up in the '60s and were no strangers to
drug use. They sometimes marveled that they were lucky to have made it
through their teenage years more or less unscathed. Though she was upset, Sondra's
attitude toward Luke's transgression was more laissez-faire than
David's, "because I did it and enjoyed it thoroughly." Luke seemed to be
maintaining his grades, so if he was getting high, he was handling it well. She
was more worried about him smoking cigarettes.
David, who says he abused alcohol as a young adult, took a zero
tolerance attitude. "Luke knew I had smoked pot," David says. "We'd sit down
to talk about it. To me, pot can lead you on to other drugs. I never got
through to him." Luke's argument: Marijuana is natural, no big deal,
you-did-it-so-what's-the-problem. David looked for opportunities to
challenge his son about his drug use, but only once or twice did he
suspect Luke was high.
"I needed hard evidence before I confronted Luke," David says. "He
only responded to hard evidence." Luke always had a one-word retort:
hypocrite. Even so, David saw Luke as a casual user. Like most parents, he
didn't have a clue. Besides, Luke seemed to be on track to get into a good
college, especially after passing a handful of AP tests and scoring a 1380
on his SAT.
His friends tell another story. By the end of high school, Luke was
smoking pot regularly and occasionally doing mushrooms or sipping over-the-
counter cough syrup containing dextromethorphan (DXM), like Robitussin.
Luke loved altering his reality, not because he felt unhappy--though he was
angry at his father about the divorce--but because life was amazing. He
admired the edgy, dangerous life of his idols: rappers and rock stars, alive
and dead. "Luke glamorized that whole lifestyle," says "Dennis," one high school
friend. (All the names of students have been changed.)
"He wanted to try everything," says "Corey," another high school
friend who smoked pot in high school to deal with academic pressure. "He did it
first--and more." Sometime after graduation in May 2002, Luke first snorted heroin,
courtesy of "Tina," a girl he met through a friend at church.
Described as a "very hot chick" by Luke's buddies, Tina lived in North
Richland Hills and was a year older than Luke. During high school,
when neither could drive, they talked for hours online. After Tina got her
license, she'd pick Luke up on Friday and he'd spend the weekends
with her family. Sondra didn't know that Tina was a heroin addict who
dropped out of high school.
"I thought she was real sweet," says Sondra, who remarried in 2002,
about the time her son started dating Tina. "I thought she was a stable
influence for Luke. I never suspected she had a drug problem. What I didn't
like was that she wasn't doing anything. She didn't work or go to school.
She lived with her parents."
Every now and then Tina dropped out of sight; Sondra would later
learn her son's girlfriend had been in rehab during those times. She now
believes that Luke learned a lot about drugs from Tina.
Luke didn't tell most of his buddies about trying heroin. They
looked down on people who used heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. Stuff that
junkies use, that can get you addicted. Though one close friend believed
Luke turned to drugs because of depression, most of the others thought he just
enjoyed getting high.
"I don't think he was addicted," says "Rosemary," who dated a friend of
Luke's. "I think he was bored and cocky."
Among his circle of friends at UTD, Luke became known as the expert on
illegal and legal drugs, which was saying something. All of them had
bookmarked erowid.org, the Web site known for its broad and deep
"vaults" of information on recreational drug use. Operated out of California by
two people known only as "Earth" and "Fire," Erowid taps into the
collective knowledge, experience and enthusiasm of users all over the world.
Plano police Detective Courtney Perot, who investigates overdoses--
both fatal and nonfatal--consults Erowid regularly. "You have people
using the drug talking about the effects right there," Perot says. "Some of the
information obtained on these Web sites is beneficial--talking
about the dangers of using various drugs. But there are so many different
sites out there that advocate and encourage usage."
You can search Erowid for information on plants, herbs, psychoactives,
pharmaceuticals, chemicals and new "smart drugs" that supposedly
sharpen your brain. Consider this enthusiastic report from an OxyContin
user: "The drug...gives me the most euphoric high I've ever felt. I have had a
lot of experience with other substances and none compare to OC. I never
take more than one 40 mg pill crushed and taken orally. The effects usually
hit around 45 minutes...The euphoric high will last until I pass out. Smoking
weed while on OC intensifies the opiate 'buzz' for me. I won't take OC
Many of the experience reports, however, are warnings. And the
range of substances seems endless. Take this from a guy who crushed up
morning glory seeds (yes, flower seeds), mixed them with water and drank the
potion: "From my experience I CANNOT recommend their use, it was probably the
single most unpleasant experience of my life. Ten hours of intense panic,
(imagined) suffocation, seemingly endless, painful hurling accompanied by crazy
delusions that you are going to die and that your organs went
through a blender are not my idea of a good time."
Other popular sites for illicit use include dancesafe.org, which
caters to the rave/Ecstasy crowd, bluelight.nu, junkylife.com, pillreports.com,
shroomery.org, ecstasy.org, thedea.org, Lycaeum.org, crazymeds.com and
maps.org (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies).
These Web sites weren't meant to be a source of trivia. Teen users and
abusers do their research here, in the privacy of their bedrooms.
In a study released in April, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America
reported that, for the first time in 17 years, teenagers were more
likely to have abused prescription and over-the-counter medications than
illicit drugs like cocaine, Ecstasy, methamphetamines, heroin and LSD. About one
in five teens has abused a prescription painkiller to get stoned. Eighteen
percent reported nonmedical use of Vicodin, 10 percent admitted they'd used
OxyContin and 10 percent Ritalin or Adderall.
"The current favorite is Xanax," says Gayle Jensen-Savoie, director
of Seay Behavioral Health Center, an adolescent psychiatric and chemical
dependency unit in Plano. "It has a numbing effect. If you are overstimulated
in so many areas, with Xanax you can handle it all. In the last three
months, for the first time we had to detox several kids of Xanax, which we
never had to do before. They were probably taking 16 a day. That's a huge
amount. That's deadly, and then they drink."
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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."
When she got to know Luke, he was regularly using Valium, Percocet,
Adderall, Xanax and, of course, smoking pot.
"I saw him take at least nine Adderall a day," Shelley says, "some
in the morning, then a couple of Valium, then more Adderall." Luke used
some of Shelley's medications, too. And when no Percocet was available, he
sipped liquid codeine, the active ingredient in prescription cough syrup,
sometimes called "sizzurp" and popular in hip-hop culture. One night before they
hooked up, Shelley saw Luke crashed on his couch during a party,
wiped out by Valium and sizzurp. The next day he didn't answer his phone.
Shelley finally drove to his apartment and pounded on the door until he
answered. "He was so white, so pale," Shelley says. "He looked terrible. I
think that was the first time he might have accidentally OD'd."
Shelley later urged Luke to go to the university counseling center. He
brushed her off. "I don't think it was a physical addiction that
Shelley says. "It was psychological. Stopping would bring him down,
so that he'd think there was something wrong with his head. He thought he
might have a disorder like mine."
Both knew they needed to quit. Adderall suppresses the appetite, so
they weren't eating, and their sleep schedule had turned upside down. If
they could just get through the end of the semester, then they could
make some changes.
In early May, Luke took Shelley to a doctor's office for a routine
appointment. After grabbing a bunch of cards from a Rolodex-type
dispenser that described various medications, he cut and pasted the cards into a
flip-type notebook, creating a log of seven drugs he had taken and
more he wanted to try, complete with each medication's purpose, dosages,
dangers and how they affected him.
At their Mother's Day lunch on May 9, Luke gave Sondra a lovely
vase filled with yellow roses and a sweet card. Happy and full of enthusiasm, Luke
talked about changing his major to law. With Jason's tutoring, Luke
was making better grades.
Sondra saw no sign of drug use. But finals started the next day,
and Luke was popping Adderall like M&Ms.
David Stone got the phone call from a Dallas police detective at
about 2 p.m. on May 14. "You've lost your son," said the officer, calling
from the Collin County Medical Examiner's Office. "It's a drug overdose."
David had no idea what he was talking about.
"It's not Luke," David insisted. "How do you know it's my son?" The
officer had found a drivers license in a Richardson apartment. The photo of
Sean Lukas Stone, age 20, matched the body found there.
Still in disbelief, David called Sondra, who was in her car, and
asked her to pull over. When he told her, Sondra's reaction was the same: "It
can't be Luke."
David picked up her and their younger son, and they drove to the
medical examiner's office in McKinney. Seeing Luke's body on a gurney
through the morgue window, Sondra screamed. She refused to believe Luke had
accidentally overdosed. Someone must have done it to him.
Over the next few weeks, his parents heard more details from Luke's
friends and pieced together what had happened in their son's final days.
On May 12, Corey, Jason, Roman, Anthony and Luke had lunch together
at The Abbey, their favorite pub. "We were talking about graduating and
what we wanted to do," Corey says. "Luke was serious about [Shelley], as
happy as I'd seen him in months. A real happy, not an opiate happy."
Luke pulled an all-nighter, studying with Jason for his calculus
and history exams. In addition to Adderall, Luke was using Xanax and Valium. His
on-campus connection hadn't been able to get Percocet for weeks.
"You could tell he'd been studying and was strung out a little,"
"At that point, you see shadow people." Recently Luke had been acting
paranoid, saying that three undercover cops lived in his complex.
The next day, Luke aced his calculus final. He made two trips to
Wal-Mart, the second with Shelley. His mother had given him about $180 on
Sunday. They bought some cleaning supplies, a small table and some DVDs. Late that
afternoon Luke dropped Shelley at his apartment and apparently made
a run to see Porn.
While Luke was gone, Shelley cleaned the apartment--it was the end
of the semester, and Luke's lease was almost up--then took a Seroquel, her
prescribed medication for bipolar disorder, and zonked out.
She was still asleep on the couch early that evening when
Christopher and several other guys dropped in. Luke had returned with lots of weed
and three fat gel caps of morphine, a drug he didn't much like because it
gives a "dirty" high, making him feel rotten after it wears off. But
morphine was the best his dealer could offer. He later told Shelley it took his
No matter; he'd recoup it quickly by selling the pot.
Wearing a black tank top and deep into the game City of Heroes,
Luke looked gaunt and hollow-eyed. "He had been on Xanax the entire week,"
Christopher says. "He had gone from swallowing it to dissolving it in water or
snorting it. It hits your bloodstream all at once." Christopher bought some
weed but declined Luke's offer to share the morphine.
At 10 p.m., Shelley woke from her nap. Luke emptied one gel cap of the
morphine and separated it into two lines. He snorted one, and Shelley
snorted the other. It hit Shelley hard, and she stumbled to bed.
Shelley roused around 9 a.m. on May 14 and found Luke half on, half
off the bed. She pushed him back onto it and draped his arm around her. It
fell limp. Alarmed, Shelley pressed her ear on his chest. His heart was
beating, faint and slow but not irregular. She went back to sleep.
Later that morning--she doesn't remember the time, but it was
probably close to noon--Shelley got out of bed and started to tidy up. They were
going to UPS that day to look for work. A few minutes later, when she tried
to rouse Luke, he didn't respond. Shelley pulled the covers off the bed, joking
around. She saw with a shock that the top of his body was deathly
pale and the bottom half looked bruised. Shelley flashed back to discovering
her mother's body; her blood had settled on the side where she'd
fallen, making her appear bruised. Shrieking, Shelley ran through the apartment
and found the three gel caps on the counter, empty.
Hysterical, Shelley called Jason's cell phone. When he didn't answer, she
dialed his roommate Christopher and screamed at him to wake Jason.
"He's not breathing!" she sobbed to Jason. "Get over here now. Luke's dead!"
Jason raced to the apartment. One look was all it took. Weeping,
incoherent, Shelley insisted they had to get all the pot and paraphernalia out
of the apartment. She didn't want his parents or the police to know Luke was
"Luke's dead," Jason told her. "He's not going to jail." He realized,
however, that Shelley's probation could be revoked for being around
illegal drugs. Jason gathered up the dope, bongs and scales--inadvertently
leaving behind a tube containing mushroom spores from an unsuccessful
attempt to grow 'shrooms--and carted the stuff out.
Shelley called 911 about 12:30 p.m. Two Dallas police detectives
arrived in minutes with the paramedics.
The news of Luke's death flashed through cell phones, leaving his
friends shocked and bewildered. With their limited knowledge of
pharmaceuticals, they debated the cause. Did the Adderall, an amphetamine that can
cause heart irregularities, interact with the morphine, which can suppress
respiration? Finally aware how little they really knew, the tragedy
snapped them out of their own pill habits.
For a while. As they awaited the autopsy results, Luke's parents lived in a kind of
suspended disbelief that lasted seven weeks. "I couldn't fathom
that it was a drug overdose," Sondra says. "Luke was so smart." She was
convinced there had been foul play.
Sondra agonized that Luke might have survived if Shelley had
immediately called 911. Shelley's grief and drug use had resulted in different
stories. There's no doubt, however, that when Shelley woke up the second
time, Luke was beyond rescue.
The autopsy results surprised everybody. Dr. William Rohr, the Collin County medical examiner, ruled that
Luke died of mixed-drug intoxication--the combined effects of morphine,
amphetamine and at least three benzodiazepines. While the morphine alone wasn't
a lethal dose, the chemical cocktail in Luke's body shut down his respiration.
His blood showed traces of diazepam (Valium), temazepam (a sleep
aid) and oxazepam (anti-anxiety). Had he taken the benzos that day? The
Perhaps Luke had gotten to the point where he couldn't remember
what he took when, and even his carefully organized drug log couldn't save him.
Six of Luke's longtime friends served as pallbearers at the
funeral. After Tina told Sondra the name of one of Luke's suppliers, she was
shocked to find the dealer's signature in the funeral home guest book.
Luke's drug-using friends were there, too, and some of their lives
have changed. In the last 12 months, Shelley has moved to a university
out of state. Using journal entries from their month together, Shelley
wrote a short one-woman play about falling in love with Luke and then
finding him dead and performed it for her theater class. She no longer takes any
psychotropic medications. "When I stopped abusing my prescription
drugs," Shelley says, "I was able to stop using them [altogether]."
Most of Luke's friends say they've stopped using illicit
medications. "None of us ever thought the pills were that dangerous," Christopher
says. "I didn't want to be part of it anymore."
Corey says he's stopped smoking pot but still does Percocet. "I
think we're all more cautious," he says.
Jason was scared, but also angry. "It seemed like such a waste," he
says. "It scared me, and it still does. I have a lot of friends who are
doing what he was doing. They moderated it at first. But Luke understood.
Moderation isn't possible."
Anthony feels like he grew up a lot in the last year. "It was like
I left 'La La Land'--drugs are fun, they won't hurt us, we're so young--and
realized death was real," he says. "I think about Luke every day."