||Brad Parker graduated from Rocklin High School last spring and planned to enroll at Sierra College in the fall.
Instead, he became addicted to the painkiller OxyContin. College would wait. Parker, 19, said he began selling drugs to pay for his habit and rarely left home without a hunting knife and stun gun so he could defend himself if someone tried to take his stash.
Realizing how desperate his life had become, he entered residential treatment in early December, where he says he white-knuckled through the pain of withdrawal.
Public health and law enforcement officials in El Dorado, Placer and Yuba counties say they are noticing a small but alarming increase in people addicted to the pain-relieving drug.
Methadone treatment providers say they're seeing 20-year-olds sitting with their parents in waiting rooms along with middle-aged former heroin junkies.
"The old heroin addicts are like, 'What are these kids doing here?' " said Birdie Klopf, clinical director at Addiction Treatment Services in Yuba County. "It's a big problem."
OxyContin is a prescription drug increasingly abused from the East Coast to the West. Experts compare OxyContin to heroin in the power of its addiction and the misery of its withdrawal.
When manufacturer Purdue Pharma released OxyContin in 1995, a big selling point was a time-release capability that meant one pill packed a large dose of the painkiller oxy codone, cutting down on the number of pills a patient had to ingest.
But the danger emerges when the pills are crushed and snorted or injected, with large doses delivering a high equal to three hits of heroin, said Laura Lagge, a counselor at New Dawn Recovery Center in Citrus Heights.
Lagge said the high works in ways similar to the body's natural defenses: If a person cuts the tip of a finger, feels the pain and sees the blood, the brain emits opiates, she said. Oxycodone taps the opiate receptors in the brain. For people with an abundance of receptors, the feeling can be euphoric.
"Once a kid starts using it - and likes it - the response opiate addicts get is full of a sense of power, grandiosity," she said.
That's how it was for Parker. He started by snorting 20 milligrams with friends in a dorm at California State University, Sacramento. The first night, he said, he threw up, but enjoyed it.
Within months, he was taking up to 300 milligrams a day. He'd sit in a couch and feel like he'd sunk in 6 feet. "When you wake up, you have to have Oxy," he said. "You won't ... do anything until you get it."
Abuse of the drug is rampant in New England and Appalachia, according to a National Drug Intelligence Center report. Rush Limbaugh made headlines when he admitted his addiction to OxyContin in October 2003.
Officials say it is emerging in the Sacramento region as it did elsewhere: used by more men than women and more often in rural areas than urban. In the annual Monitoring the Future survey of U.S. high school students, while most categories of teen drug use declined, OxyContin use rose. In 2004, 5 percent of high-school seniors said they had tried it.
Drug treatment agencies throughout Northern California are reporting increased admissions of people trying to kick addictions to OxyContin, said Gordon Taylor, agent in charge of the Sacramento branch of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
El Dorado County coroner's officials said a 26-year-old woman and 19-year-old man died last year of overdoses related to OxyContin; a 48-year old woman died of an overdose in Yuba County.
The drug, dubbed "hillbilly heroin," has become popular with high school-and college-aged youths in El Dorado County, Sheriff's Det. Jeff Dreher said. Authorities are seeing pills smuggled in from Mexico, as well as prescription doses that are sold or stolen.
In Placer County, Sheriff's Lt. George Malim said OxyContin prescriptions have been taken in about a dozen burglaries and robberies.
Parker, during an interview at an Orange vale rehab house, acknowledged he sold the drug to help finance his habit, and knew of others who burglarized houses and cars to fund their supply. He said he once accepted a Dell laptop computer in exchange for 2 1/2 80-milligram pills.
It was a good deal from a desperate person; the drug commands a price of 50 cents per milligram, about $40 for an 80-milligram pill, officers said.
Barbara Van Rooyan of Folsom said the drug, in part, cost her son's life. She said Patrick Stewart died this summer at age 24 after mixing a 160-milligram pill with alcohol at a San Diego party.
Since then, she has spent more than 1,000 hours researching the drug and reaching out to her fellow counselors in the Los Rios Community College system.
"My goal is prevention of what it's become out East," she said. "Hopefully, not another single California kid will have to die from it."
In Yuba County, public health director Dr. Joseph Cassady said he is seeing teens addicted to the drug in jails, clinics and juvenile hall.
The scope of what he saw prompted Cassady to request a visit from the DEA and to write to doctors throughout the county, asking that they prescribe the drug with care. "There are a lot of kids out there whose lives have been torn up because of the drug," he said.
On Parker's first day in rehab, his mother told him, he missed 40 calls on his cell phone - likely people wanting the "OC" or a "ticket to Orange County," he said, code names for the drug.
Still, Parker is confident he won't relapse. Withdrawal has been miserable, with anxiety, chills and sweats, and sleepless nights.
"Now, I don't need to break the law to feel normal," he said. "Now, I can wake up and eat breakfast and talk to a group. I don't need a pill."