When his son's friends hanged themselves in a park by his house, Frank Lindine hoped the shocking double suicide would spur the 21-year-old to kick his oxycodone habit.
Instead, he relapsed.
His parents have taken away his car, forced him to take drug tests and barred his bad-influence friends from their home. Still he has failed repeated attempts at out-patient detox and has broken promises to commit to rehab.
For half a year now, this has been the cycle of life in the Lindine home as their only child tries to end his dependence on the highly addictive, narcotic pain relievers he copped at so-called pill mills, Lindine said.
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"It's an epidemic. I'm living it," said Lindine, 54, an account executive for a computer company. "It's just ruining thousands of families and young kids today."
While the Legislature and cities try to regulate pill mills and keep new ones from opening, people like Lindine, substance abuse experts and health officials fear the ones already in operation have spawned a subculture of young people who are addicting and killing themselves in alarming numbers.
People in their 20s are most likely to show up in Broward and Palm Beach counties' hospitals with oxycodone-related emergencies -- twice the national rate, according to a July report by the United Way of Broward County's Commission on Substance Abuse.
Many of them "may be showing up 10 or so years later at the medical examiner's office because they've died of a drug overdose," said Jim Hall, head of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Substance Abuse at Nova Southeastern University. He cites statistics that Floridians ages 35 to 50 are the most prone to die from oxycodone-related overdoses.
"Even if they didn't open another pain clinic in Broward or Palm Beach County, there's still too many," Lindine said. The two counties together have an estimated 200 pain-management clinics.
The Parkland father asked that his son's name be withheld from this report. The son confirmed his father's account.
"It's not easy for me to sit here and tell you the story of what's going haywire with my son. It's not something that we're proud of, but I want parents to know that their kids are in danger," Lindine said. "These pain clinics are on every street corner in Broward and Palm Beach."
"Everybody's on Roxies"
Just after the July 19 hangings of Nikayla Baldomero, 24, and Joseph M. Brown, 22, friends described them as sharing a taste for recreational drugs.
It has not been disclosed what, if any, drugs Baldomero and Brown may have been using the night they killed themselves. Toxicology reports have not been released, and the Broward Sheriff's Office sealed the files until the investigation is completed.
But on Brown's memorial Facebook page, friends posted a link urging one another to sign an electronic petition to ban OxyContin, the time-released version of oxycodone.
Baldomero's and Brown's mothers did not respond to requests for interviews. Baldomero's mother, Vivian, has said hospital blood tests showed her daughter had no drugs in her system at the time of the hanging.
Beth Maguire, who had known Brown since the fifth grade and considered him family, said over the last two years his drug use isolated him from her and other friends. As his "drug abuse" took hold, she said, Brown did not show up as usual to celebrate the last two Christmases and Easter with her family.
Maguire said she has watched "countless people" fight to get off Roxicodone, a brand-name version of oxycodone, and Brown told her he was committed to doing the same.
"He told us he was trying to be clean," she said.
"Everybody's on Roxies now," said Maguire, 23, of Coconut Creek. "I don't know if he was taking those pills or not [the night of the suicide], I really don't know. I know that's why some people stopped talking to him. They change who you are. They make you an empty shell."
A family's struggle
Lindine's son, who aspires to be a police officer, graduated from Pope John Paul High School in Boca Raton.
His drug troubles began after a June 2009 car accident. A doctor diagnosed him with a bulging disc and prescribed physical therapy. But within months, Lindine said, his son was seeking out painkillers on his own.
Early this year, armed with his MRI report, his son went to a Margate pain clinic, where he got his first prescription for oxycodone, Lindine said. The father said the young man spoke openly about obtaining his first prescriptions.
"At times he would get 180 pills for a 30-day supply, which seemed like an awful lot to me," Lindine said. "Can you imagine 180 pills over 30 days? I can't imagine somebody taking six a day, to be walking around in a fog."
From February to the summer months, his son's appearance and demeanor changed radically, Lindine said. He quit shaving, looked tired all the time, and became apathetic and sometimes defiant.
Despite his growing addiction, he managed to finish his last semester at Florida Atlantic University in June with a total of 56 credits, Lindine said.
His son's disheveled appearance and dark demeanor were among the first clues; other signs would be more obvious.
"I found the evidence, I found paraphernalia, I found aluminum foil, I found the straws," Lindine said. "You know your kids are smoking 'oxy' when you find a regular straw that's cut in half and smells like something has been smoked through it."
Drug users' discovery that they can heat the narcotic pills to inhale the vapors, crush them to swallow or snort, or dissolve them to inject, "set off the current prescription-drug epidemic," said Hall, the Nova expert.
"Abusers quickly learned they could bypass the time-release mechanism," he said. "They're getting an extremely high-dose level of the drug all at once, rather than over a time-released 12-hour period."
Sometimes the addiction begins with the legitimate use of pain medications, but Hall said most South Florida addicts are intentionally abusing the drugs.
"They start out to get high and then they get hooked," Hall said. "These medications are as addictive as heroin."
While Florida moves more oxycodone than any other state in the nation, Broward sells more of the pills than any other county in the state. Federal regulators say nearly 420 million oxycodone tablets were dispensed in Florida in 2008.
When Brown and Baldomero hanged themselves from the trusses of a Terramar Park pavilion, the tragedy hit uncomfortably close to home, Lindine said.
Lindine's son was friends with Baldomero and Brown. Brown lived about a block away. Baldomero sent his son text messages the night before she hanged herself, Lindine said.
Lindine said when he looked at photos of Brown, who closely resembles his son, he teared up.
"Just think how tormented they had to be to take it to that level," Lindine said. "I was trying to say to [my son], as bad as it is, use this as an omen to say, 'Geez, look what happened to these two kids' that you knew. Maybe this is a message that you're going to stop, pull yourself up, clean your life up.
"But unfortunately, he just used it as another excuse to go back on the oxy. Emotionally, he couldn't handle it."
One failed and one successful bout of detox later, Lindine's son entered a month-long in-patient rehab program in Cooper City two weeks ago.
"My hope is that the rehab works and that we get our son back," Lindine said. "We're being cautiously optimistic. With this situation you just take it a day at a time. That's how it goes."
Tonya Alanez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4542.