He sits there quietly in a cold sweat. His hands tremble as he fidgets. This 19-year-old bounces his legs as if trying to bounce the pain out of his body. Mark Travis, a husband and father of a 2-year-old, is in withdrawal. He became addicted to Oxycodone. On the street they're known as Roxy's or Blues.
We first met Mark through the proverbial good kid in school, Robert "RJ" Joker. RJ was Pinellas Park football team's most valuable player in 2007. He earned a scholarship to Jacksonville University. It was a football career cut short by a knee injury.
RJ left school and came home to the Bay Area to make a startling discovery.
"I started to reconnect with old friends from high school and see what everyone was up to and essentially discovered everyone was on this new drug I've never head of".
RJ says 12-15 of his friends were hooked on Roxy's. This prescription drug had taken over the lives. He was devastated to see what it was doing to them.
"I've been around friends that are puking, hurling their guts up. They can't talk or get up. Just having conversations with people who just doze out halfway through their sentences".
At the risk of severing relationship, RJ confronted his friends. Mark was one of them who listen.
Mark's problem began when he had his wisdom teeth pulled and the doctor prescribed vicodin. Mark started abusing those. His prescription ran out, so he went to a friend who could score pain killers.
Mark said, "I asked my friend what kind of pill can you get? The first time I took it, I puked for like 2-3 hours and that was only half a pill".
That half of a pill turned into 2-3 pills a day. The next thing he knew, he was popping 10-Roxy's a day at $10-$12 a pill. Mark was spending nearly $2500 a month to support his habit. It was money Mark didn't have. He stole from family, friends, and strangers to get Blues. He was arrested and spent time in the Pinellas County jail.
It's a rough life and Mark learned just how rough during a $1000 drug deal.
"The kid gets in the back of the car. We take out the money and he takes out the pills. As soon as the money is out, he puts a gun to my friend's head and pointed it at me too. Neither of us moved. My friend gave him the money and let him go".
The only thought the two had: how to get more Roxy's.
It's not an uncommon scenario according to Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Captain Robert Alfonso. He says prescription medication has taken over as the drug of choice, especially by teens. While narcotics officers still see crack, heroin, and marijuana, it pales in comparison to the amount of prescription medication being bought and sold on the streets. He says Roxy's are powerful, immediate and cheap.
"An oxycontin from a pharmacist will run you about 11 dollars. An oxycodone or the brand roxycodone will run you about a dollar. They're running on the streets anywhere from 10-30 dollars a pill. So they're making huge amounts of money off this".
Captain Alfonso says fueling the prescription abuse problem are those who "doctor shop". An addict or pusher will go to one doctor and get a prescription. When it runs out, they seek another doctor or doctors who will prescribe the pain killers.
As for Mark, he decided against rehab. He says he can't afford it. Methadone clinics were out of the question, because he says meth is more difficult to quit than Roxy's. Mark was going to try to quit cold turkey. It didn't work. The pain was too great and he started using again.
For two weeks, Mark disappeared from our radar. He wouldn't return my calls or text messages. Finally 3-weeks had passed and Mark answered my call and agreed to meet with us. It was brief. The day we met up with Mark, he was on his way to a methadone clinic.
"I was an addict. I was always going to be an addict. I needed something to counteract that. I'll feel better in about 15 minutes once I get some methadone in my system".
It has been 2-weeks since Mark started his methadone treatment which is a 2-year program. He tells us the withdrawal symptoms have stopped and he's feeling better. In his heart he's hoping to put addiction behind him, but understands it's his mind that might stand in his way.
Keith Jones, 10 Connects