Former Juneau-Douglas High School football captain and all-state linebacker Ryan West never imagined when he graduated in 2004 that he would later become a drug addict and a felon."I didn't see me doing drugs," he said in an interview Thursday at the Juneau district attorney's office.
The office arranged to have West, now 23 and awaiting sentencing on drug-related offenses, tell his story. The lifelong Juneau resident earned a football scholarship to Weber State University in Utah and had a bright future leaving high school. His addiction began with prescription pain pills for a college football injury.
In 2007, he hyperextended his right elbow while playing. The injury eventually required surgery, and he was prescribed pain medication like Percocet, Tylox and 10-milligram pills of OxyContin.
"They were giving me those in abundance, so I was taking those, popping them all the time," he said. "And then after that they just shut me off."
OxyContin provides a euphoric high that makes you feel like the king of the world at first, West said, but the feeling quickly changes.
"At first you feel great about things and then all of a sudden it turns from there, it's just maintaining your high," he said. "And you don't feel great about yourself, you just want to stay away from the withdrawal part of it, stay away from feeling bad. It just creates a monster of you."
His prescriptions ran dry, but his appetite for opiate-based drugs grew.
"I can't blame it on them because it was my own choice to go out and find some more, but I was fiending for it, wanting it, withdrawaling from it, so I felt like I needed more," he said.
An acquaintance introduced him to 80-milligram OxyContin pills, a time-release opiate drug made of oxycodone prescribed for constant, severe pain.
"I tried it and from there it was just a roller coaster ride," he said.
West said he began using one 80-milligram pill a day, which progressed to crushing and snorting it, then to smoking it. At the height of his addiction, he was using as many as three 80-milligram pills a day, a $400 a day habit. He hit bottom in February.
"I was so into it I couldn't function," he said. "After that I decided to make some stupid choices. I thought I could steal some money from someone and it just didn't work out."
On Feb. 20, West met a woman in a parking lot off Old Dairy Road for a fake drug deal he set up, intent on stealing the buyer's money, according to court documents. The buyer passed her money to him through the window of his truck and he fled the scene going about 40 mph while the woman clung to the side of the truck. More than a block later, she fell off and seriously injured her head. She was medevaced to Seattle.
West pleaded guilty to theft in the second degree and to driving violations after negotiating for lesser charges. He's awaiting sentencing in an in-patient drug rehabilitation program that's kept him clean for several months. He said he feels terrible about what he has done.
"I never thought I could hurt a person in my life," he said. "I wasn't raised like that. I had better morals than that. Like I said, the drug takes a hold of you and all I was thinking about was having my next fix, maintaining my high. I went to certain extremes and decided to steal money from someone. When they got on my truck I didn't have any thoughts of stopping, I just wanted the money."
West hopes that others can learn from his mistakes and he is speaking out to tell people how dangerous and addictive OxyContin is.
"It's definitely a big speed bump in life if they start using," he said. "Your life becomes unmanageable when you do start using."
West said he is just now coming out of the drug haze that clouded his thoughts and dulled his emotions. He said the drug has affected his memory and sapped his endorphins. He said rehab has been great and has allowed him to open up and talk about his addiction.
"Everything for the past year was a blur, it felt like, and now I'm at least able to think about things and connect with myself and connect with other people," he said. "I really was in a shadow. I was hiding all the time when I was doing drugs."
The physical addiction is waning, but there is still an omnipresence of OxyContin in his life.
"I still think about the drug everyday but I don't feel like I want it as a part of my life anymore."
West said he was paying around $140 to $180 for an 80-milligram pill of OxyContin and knows that some people pay as much as $240. He said the opiate's use in Juneau is rampant. He's had many friends that were addicts, and a lot of them turned to crime to feed their addictions.
"You surround 95 percent of your life to getting that drug," he said. "You want it every moment of the day, you think about it and you go to certain extremes to get it."
West said parents should watch out if their children start becoming overly irritable, act irrationally, never seem to have money and if regularly active kids start acting lethargic.
"It's had a big impact on my family, unfortunately," he said. "They all knew that I could do better in life. They never saw it, I hid it pretty good from them. Once they found out, they were all pretty devastated. It's going to be a hard road for me to come back."
West said he would like young people in the community to know that using drugs will take you nowhere fast.
"In my opinion, I would have to tell them it's not worth it because later in life it could sneak up real quick on you and you could end up going to Lemon Creek, going to jail, doing something you never thought you would," he said.
West thinks a lot of people, particularly kids and young adults, feel ashamed or afraid of admitting their addiction.
"If they have a problem, don't be scared," he said. "Ask for help. Honestly. I was scared of asking for help and I never could have. I was jut too involved in myself and I thought I could kick the drug habit myself."
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.