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When all that matters is getting high

Every prescription drug abuser doesn't die.

Some live to tell how they almost did.

"I would have to wake up and have drugs, or I would be puking," said Dan Eskridge, who completed a rehab program last year to help him overcome a prescription drug addiction.

At the time, Eskridge said, he was doing speedballs -- opioids and cocaine.

That's how comedian John Belushi died, noted Scott, also a rehab patient. He didn't want his full name used.

"It killed Chris Farley," Eskridge responded, referring to another comedian who died from an overdose of opiates and cocaine.

Scott, Eskridge and Nick Manuszewski, another drug rehab graduate, spoke to The Buffalo News about their prescription drug addictions and their battles to reclaim their lives.

They all are in their early 20s.

They talked about feeling as if their skin were peeling off their bodies if they didn't get the pills they craved.

One talked about driving through some of Buffalo's toughest neighborhoods to get the drugs. Another talked of drinking a bleach and milk concoction in hopes of passing a drug test.

Another talked of spending five days in a delusional state, unsure of where he was or what he was doing. And of lying to doctors to get a prescription for bogus pain, and buying medication from an older woman who told him she was selling her painkillers for money to pay bills.

"She said it was the only way for her to pay for her heat and water," Scott said.

Their stories all start out the same.

"I would go to dances all anxious, afraid to talk to girls," Scott said. "I just wanted to be able to talk to girls."

"My whole life was anxiety," Manuszewski said.

"I wanted to fit in," Eskridge said.

So they smoked some pot.

After that, Eskridge tried cocaine, then prescription pills. Manuszewski and Scott went right to prescription pills. First Lortab (hydrocodone) -- a drug that is more abundant in Erie County than just about anyplace else in New York State. After that, they graduated to OxyContin, a much more powerful and addictive painkiller that sells for up to $80 a pill on the street.

The drugs were readily available at their schools, they said.

"People would send me a text message when I was in high school saying they had hydro, Lortabs," Eskridge said.

Scott said he encouraged classmates to go through their family medicine cabinets and bring whatever they could find to school.

Scott never graduated from his suburban high school. Eskridge graduated, but not before his drug addiction forced him to drop out of his City of Tonawanda High School baseball and football teams. Manuszewski also graduated. He even got into the University at Buffalo and, after taking science and math courses at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, planned to major in biochemical pharmacology at UB. He dropped out of college within a year.

"My parents wanted to know why my grades slipped so much," Manuszewski recalled. "I had nothing to tell them. When they found out it was drugs, I decided to quit. I stayed sober for nine or 10 months. It was difficult. Then I started drinking. It brought me back to drugs. I got back into opiates."

With habits costing as much as $100 to $150 or more a day, Manuszewski, Eskridge and Scott said they worked, dealt drugs or stole, or a combination of the three.

"I was stealing a lot of money from my family," Manuszewski said.

In the final stage, Manuszewski switched from OxyContin to heroin -- also an opioid. It was cheaper and easier to get. It was also more addictive.

"The heroin was all-consuming," he said. "I would try quitting, but I'd fall back. At one point, I got the idea if I could quit using heroin or opiates, I would be OK. So I started using crack cocaine. I ended up using both. At this point, I was suicidal. I was really depressed. My parents wanted me to get help. They tried to get me into treatment in the past, but I was always resistant. But for once, I had no excuses. I agreed to go. There was nothing else to do."

Scott's drug life ended when he decided to detox himself of the prescription meds. He started using Suboxone, a drug doctors prescribe to help addicts get clean. But Scott didn't get it from a doctor. He got it from another addict. Meanwhile, Scott was also taking antidepressants.

"I went into a seizure on the floor," Scott said. "I was in a psychotic state for five days. I felt like my brain could pop out of my head."

Scott's roommates tried to help him, but he remained delusional. "I didn't know where I was," he said.

His parents heard about their son's condition and went to his apartment.

"My mom thought I was brain-dead," he said.

With his parents' help, Scott entered rehab.

That's also where Eskridge ended up, although his recent stay was court-ordered.

"They knew I was struggling and said they would give me one more chance," he said.

The three did their rehab in Promise House, a program in West Seneca.

All three have graduated and vowed not to get sucked back into the drug-addicted lives they left behind.

e-mail: sschulman@buffnews.com

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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