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Faces of an epidemic

Class treasurer, honor student struggles with OxyContin addiction

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Class treasurer, honor student struggles with OxyContin addiction

Peabody High graduate Andrew Moskevich, 20, sits on the front steps of the house where he lives with other recovering drug addicts. Moskevich says he has been clean for one year. 

Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 6, 2005.

PEABODY — Andrew Moskevich was an honor student, class treasurer, and student representative to the School Committee. His friends in the Class of 2002 pegged him as the future mayor of Peabody. 

But on the day after Christmas one year ago, the 19-year-old's bright future had dissolved into the darkness of OxyContin addiction. 

When his father finally threw him out of the house for stealing his money again, Moskevich got into his 1992 Nissan Sentra and drove aimlessly toward Boston. The car had no windshield and no windows. They had been smashed long ago in an accident, and Moskevich had never bothered to get them fixed. 

His car broke down in Dorchester. He started walking. He called his father on his cell phone and pleaded with him to let him come home, but his father refused. 

He had no money, no place to go. Peabody police had issued a warrant for his arrest. 

"I cashed in the trust of my family. I pawned off my freedom," he said. "There was no hope for me at that time."

The first pill

Moskevich took his first OxyContin pill at a friend's house during his junior year at Peabody High. He didn't like it; it made him sick, dizzy and light-headed. But he kept trying it, and eventually the drug's soothing effects began to click for him. 

Why did a boy-next-door type like Moskevich take OxyContin in the first place? After all, he had seen what the drug had done to other kids in Peabody, how it had ruined so many lives. 

"I always despised Oxy," he said. "I didn't like what it did to my friends."

But he succumbed to peer pressure. So many of his friends were taking the drug, he said. "I'd be man out if I didn't partake."

Moskevich "dibbled and dabbled" in OxyContin for two years before the drug's allure finally grabbed him and wouldn't let go. When he was high, he felt no pain, physical or psychological. His self-confidence and self-esteem soared. "It's incredible, actually," he said. 

The problem was that one OxyContin pill cost $70. Moskevich had dropped out of the nursing program at North Shore Community College and was working as a nurses aide at Kindred Hospital in Peabody. And at three or four pills per day, he couldn't afford his habit. 

He began stealing his father's credit cards and checks and forging his name. 

He broke into the apartment of the people who lived below him in his house on Walker Road — people who had helped raise him as a boy — and stole all their jewelry. 

His sense of right and wrong had been consumed by his craving for OxyContin. He could think of nothing but the drug. "The consequences hold no weight," he said. "It's almost like survival."

When he bumped into the downstairs tenants, he looked them in the face and told them how sorry he was about their stolen jewelry. They had no idea that Andrew Moskevich, the nice boy who lived upstairs, was now a liar and a thief.

"It takes control of you," Moskevich said. "It almost kills your soul. You have no idea what it's doing until it's too late. ...

"It doesn't matter what the consequences are — your freedom, your health, your family. That's how strong the pull is. You get to the point when you actually feel like you're dying without it."

Tough love

What saved Moskevich was his father's decision to press charges against him. 

With no place to turn after his car broke down in Dorchester, he called his uncle, a state trooper. His uncle got him into a homeless shelter in Quincy for the night. 

The next morning, Moskevich checked himself into the detox unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was transferred to Salem Hospital, where police arrested him on a warrant for stealing from his father. 

Anthony Moskevich, who is a social worker, did not reach that decision lightly. He had taken his son back into his house several times, trying to help him, without success. By the time he called the police, his son says now, "He was in fear of my life."

"I hold no resentment toward him," Andrew said. "I almost respect him more now. I was completely incapable of helping myself. It was like I was climbing out of a hole and the dirt kept giving way."

Moskevich went to court and was sent to a locked detox unit at Bridgewater State Hospital. He spent four weeks in detox, where he was given opiate blockers and other medications to help him cope with the pains of withdrawal. 

He never would have lasted in detox, he said, if he hadn't been in a locked unit. Every bone in his body hurt. He couldn't even tie his shoes. 

"You get a taste of this wonderful, no-pain life (on OxyContin) and then you get it ripped away from you," he said. "It was horrible. I felt like I was dying."

A daily struggle

Once the physical pain subsides, the battle against addiction becomes mental. Moskevich said he's been drug-free now for more than a year. He lives in transitional housing, where he gets support from other recovering addicts. He works at a mall as an assistant manager. He keeps in touch with his father, but doesn't want to return to Peabody, with its reminders of his shattered life. 

"It's been (one year) now and I'm not cured," he said. "I still have my challenges each day."

Moskevich is telling his story in the hope that it will help others. People don't realize the power of OxyContin until it's too late, he said. 

"If I had kept going," he said, "I'd be an intravenous drug user by now for sure."

Moskevich said he is rebuilding his life, one day at a time. He called his recovery a "miracle."

"My worst day today in sobriety," he said, "is 10 times better than my best day when I was getting high."

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