Story of overdose pushes student to quit drugs

Clarification appended

He blew $500 of Christmas money on cocaine, snorting a half-ounce until New Year’s Eve. Then he had to stop – his nose was bleeding.

He had to try something different.

The sophomore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, cooked crack in his basement while his parents slept in their room above him.

His mother cleaned his room soon after, and instead of finding marijuana, which she already knew he smoked, she found Oxycontin and heroin.

He first snorted heroin only a couple months before then, and when he came back to D.C. – after going to an intensive outpatient program over winter break – a former student offered him more.

The sophomore turned it down. Four days later, Dean Smith, the former student who offered him more drugs, died from an accidental overdose.

Smith, 20, died Jan. 13 from an overdose of heroin, diazepam and cocaine, according to the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Smith, who attended GW from fall 2011 to spring 2012, died in the District.

The sophomore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Smith’s death intensified his fight to stay off drugs.

“You hear about it happening, you know?” he said. “But when it’s someone you know, who you used to see all the time, who you used to get high with, it’s really different.”

He has been clean for about four months now, and takes drug tests every week, which he must pass or his parents will pull him out of GW.

The sophomore said his drive to stay at GW and regular sessions at the University Counseling Center – mostly to address his bipolar disorder – have kept him from slipping.

Some friends have cut ties with him since he quit drugs, but he said most, even those who still use drugs, were happy for him.

“They were proud of me, because they could tell I was in a bad place,” the sophomore said. “I was like a skeleton. I was super pale and everything.”

He had never tried drugs until his senior year of high school, when he first smoked marijuana. After coming to GW, his drug use spiraled out of control, from alcohol to psilocybin mushrooms to acid.

But the sophomore said heroin was different. The users he knows, about eight who attend GW, sometimes do not even tell their closest friends about their habit.

Reports of heroin use on campus are rare, Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities director Gabriel Slifka and associate director for the Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education Alexis Janda said earlier this month.

“Since I began working at GW, I have not had a student discuss or disclose use of heroin to me,” Janda said.

The sophomore said the group would only stop using heroin if they drained their stashes or ran out of cash. They had to take larger and larger doses to get high as their tolerance to the drug rose, and turned to other opiates such as Percocet and Vicodin when they could not get their hands on heroin.

“You’re just really not you. Obviously, you could say that about any drug, but with heroin, once you start doing it, the craving for it is unbelievable,” he said. “I told myself I would never do that.”

He remembers Smith falling asleep standing up from the effects of heroin, and watching as his skin turned yellow and the whites of his eyes turned green. He said Smith bought heroin off campus from a dealer in the city.

Another student, a junior who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Smith was the only student he knew who sold heroin. He knew Smith since high school, and said Smith had already gone to rehab multiple times before he came to GW.

The junior said Smith moved to the Mount Vernon Campus for some time and his health seemed to improve, with color returning to his face.

Smith, who was from Georgia, left GW in spring 2012 to return to rehab, the students said. When the junior saw him in D.C. before winter break began this year, he said the former student looked “near death.”

“It was like one of the most disgusting, freakish things I’ve ever seen, just because I knew those were just chemicals that were swimming in his body,” the junior said.

The sophomore said his drug use at GW intensified as the years passed.

He said the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug proved true for him, and his first experiences with weed revealed a “whole new world.”

“Once you get your first taste of that escape, you want it again. You just want to keep getting it and getting it,” he said. “In my case, it’s about getting out of your own mind because it’s a scary place. It’s about numbing yourself from society, from school work, from whatever you have to do.”

He and his friends bought acid for $650 a sheet, which he called “easier to get than a cheeseburger” on campus last year. He sold about 100 tabs of acid a week and made $1,500.

But that was not enough.

The sophomore then tried cocaine at a club in D.C., followed by Oxycontin at $30 per pill. He took speed every day and lost 20 pounds in two months. He tried MDMA, Ketamine and research chemicals over the course of two years.

“It really is like a web. You just move from person to person. You just gotta make the connections. It’s really easy – it’s so easy,” he said.

He became more withdrawn around friends and at parties, keeping to himself until someone in the room started to talk about drugs. He got in trouble with the police and failed class after class.

“I’ve like commando crawled across my parents’ bedroom floor in the middle of the night to steal money to buy drugs,” he said. “I stole money from kids. I beat some kid up one time. I’d steal drugs from people – just scheming pretty much. That’s what we’d call it.”

For the junior, his use of heroin was short-lived – he quit about three weeks after he took up the habit. He still uses another opiate, Oxycotin, which he said is popular on campus.

“If you’re hooked on anything, you’re going to feel like there’s a void that’s being filled while you’re on the drug and when you’re not on it, it’s completely empty and, not only that, it freaks you out. Like it scares you more than anything,” he said. “And then it gets to a point where you’re on top of this mountain and the only way to get off of it is to jump off this cliff. That’s basically heroin addiction, too, more so than other drugs.”

Deaths from drug overdose in the United States quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, according to a February report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February.

John Hroncich, a 24-year-old law student, died Dec. 20 from an accidental overdose of heroin and Adderall in his New Jersey home. Last year, 28-year-old law student Benjamin Gupta also died from drug use – a lethal mix of oxycodone and alcohol.

The sophomore said he was asked to list what he valued the most while in an outpatient program back home, and then worked to figure out what held him back from those goals. He realized drugs were holding him back, which motivated him to let them go.

“I thought the things that I value the most were the things I actually held true, but in reality, I didn’t hold true,” he said. “Luckily for me, someone was there – my parents were there, people were there to help me.”

This article was updated April 22, 2013 to reflect the following:
This article was updated to more clearly distinguish between each student.

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