Hard drugs at high costs

April 22, 2004, midnight | By Brittany Moyer | 16 years, 9 months ago

A handful of Blazers experiment with cocaine

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

Parked quietly on a Takoma Park side street, Tim, a senior, takes a small cocaine-filled bag from the car's cup holder, carefully pours its contents onto the dashboard in front of him and uses his school ID to move the powder into a single, white line. When his friend in the passenger seat, Jason, also a senior, has done the same thing, they each stick a rolled-up 20-dollar bill up one nostril, plug the other one and "go down the line," swiftly snorting the drug off the dashboard, through their noses and into their systems.

Instantly, Jason feels cocaine's trademark "drip" sensation slide down his throat as the drug is quickly absorbed through his nasal tissues and into the bloodstream where it races to the brain. He can feel his heartbeat picking up and his extremities starting to become numb, the effects of cocaine he had heard about and seen in movies, as he's launched into a fast-paced, "I'm-on-top-of-the-world" high.

But what he can't feel is the lasting impression the cocaine is making in his body as it alters the way his brain processes dopamine, a chemical messenger associated with pleasure and movement. Even after trying cocaine just once, the brain craves more to make the body feel normal again, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Tim and Jason are two of a handful of Blazers who have made themselves subject to cocaine, a highly addictive and potentially fatal central nervous system stimulant.

The gateway to harder drugs

Though this encounter with cocaine was a first for Tim and Jason, they have each experimented with numerous other drugs. Jason's self-described motivation to use cocaine is a common one among cocaine-using Blazers—he wanted to try something radically different than the more popular substances such as alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. "I got tired of smoking. It's senior year, and I wanted to try something new," he says.

As did Tim and Jason, most cocaine users first experiment with comparatively less dangerous substances. In 2001, 90 percent of cocaine users said that they had smoked cigarettes, drunk alcohol or used marijuana before trying cocaine, according to Drug-Rehabs.org. Because of this trend, cocaine is known as a "gateway drug."

A regular cigarette smoker, Scott, a junior, wasn't hesitant to try cocaine because he had garnered a certain familiarity with drugs. He had heard about the euphoric effects of cocaine and, having no inhibitions about doing "just another drug," decided to go ahead and give it a go. "I was just experimenting. I wanted to see if it made you feel happy, if it pepped you up like it is supposed to," Scott explains.

Scott, Tim and Jason all claim experimentation with drugs is a valuable learning experience. "Every child needs to experiment," Tim says.

Playing jeopardy with cocaine

For children who do follow Tim's advice, the financial and legal risks are extremely high. One gram of cocaine, which supplies about one or two nights worth of quick 15- to 30-minute highs, runs for around $70. And in Maryland, the maximum penalty for possession and sale of 28 grams or more of cocaine is $50,000 and 25 years of jail time.

With so much in jeopardy, cocaine dealing is much riskier than transactions with marijuana. Large sums of money make for both a cautious dealer and buyer, especially in a high-school environment.

There are no cocaine dealers at Blair, according to sources, but interested buyers are able to look elsewhere for supply. For students, buying cocaine is a very pricey pastime, and to pay the dealer, sustain the practice and satisfy the cravings, cocaine users are sometimes driven to crime to get a hold of needed money. Tim bought his first supply of cocaine with money he obtained by dealing marijuana.

A former cocaine addict of 19 years, Stephen Dengler, now the executive director of the Phoenix Recovery Center in Maryland, distinctly remembers the various crimes he committed to support his cocaine habit. "I stole, I robbed, I pawned my things, I pawned other people's things, I manipulated people into giving me money, all so I could buy more cocaine," he admits. In his early stages of drug use, he says he did not anticipate how extreme his addiction would become.

The dark hole of addiction

Most regular drug users, like Tim and Jason, feel they have control over their usage, including that of cocaine. A self-proclaimed "dork when it comes to drugs," Tim researches the substances he is interested in before and while he uses them.

Instead of being alerted to the risks and consequences of hard drugs through his research, Tim decided to become a part of the 9.4 percent of students who will use cocaine in their lifetime, according to a 2001 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The more I learned about [cocaine], the more I thought trying it once wasn't that big of a deal," he says matter-of-factly.

To users, the short-term qualities of cocaine highs—the feelings of euphoria, mental well-being and exhilaration—may transcend the seemingly low-risk, long-term dangers. "The very first time I tried cocaine, it made me feel like I was the best-looking guy in the world. I had energy. I had vitality. It made me feel like a million bucks," says Dengler.

But according to Yonette Thomas, branch chief epidemiologist for NIDA, the highs of cocaine deceive users into trying a drug with an addictive property considered higher than most other drugs. Tim acknowledges the potential risk of addiction but chooses to regulate his usage rather than abstain completely. "My main concern is addiction, and moderation is my motto," he says.

At the peak of Dengler's addiction, he was living alone in the basement of his house, where he would sometimes go a week without eating. He covered all of his windows with Army blankets, constantly afraid that people were watching him. When the phone rang, he would panic, unsure what to do.

Despite the obvious peril, most cocaine-using Blazers don't appear to be worried about addiction. "I always know when I'm getting out of control and need to back down," Jason says. "I can tell myself to stop."

Speaking from his personal experience with using cocaine, Dengler stresses the point that addiction does not discriminate. "[A drug user] is going to tell you that they can stop at any time. But really, what drug addict will start out thinking they'll become addicted?" he asks. "Cocaine is a drug; it's an addictive stimulant. So why do it? Why put a gun to your head, knowing it has a bullet in the chamber? Why do something that you know has the potential to hurt you?"

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Brittany Moyer. Brittany is a senior in the Communication Arts Program at Montgomery Blair. She has taken pride in being part of Blair's girls' soccer team, Blair's <i>a capella</i> group InToneNation, and of course <i>Silver Chips</i>. Outside of school, Brit goes crazy for arts & crafts, outdoorsy … More »

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