The high school wrestlers who built an Oxycodone empire

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IN JUNE 2009, Lance Barabas threw the sort of party that turns college students into local legends.

Cocaine was served on silver trays. Opiate pills were passed around in goblets.

The bacchanal was “filled with college kids smoking weed, drinking out of Jagermeister kegerators, and dancing to Top 40 music,” writes Barabas’s friend, Douglas Dodd in Generation Oxy: From High School Wrestlers to Pain Pill Kingpins, co-written by Matthew B. Cox.

And yet drugs and booze weren’t enough for Barabas, a business-management student making a small fortune working for fellow student Dodd, who had built a massive oxycodone-dealing business in just three years, the New York Post reports.

Flush with drug money, Barabas needed to go all-out.

Dodd, who was at the party, describes the scene in detail: “Lance spread out one hundred grand on his kingsize bed and let a dozen drunken sorority girls snap photos of each other rolling around in cash before posting them on Facebook. Co-eds were getting f—-d up on pills, striking ‘Charlie’s Angels’ poses in nothing but lingerie and holding Lance’s assault rifles and handguns.”

But this would mark the end rather than the beginning of the pals’ spree. That same night, Justin Knox, a “standout wrestler at Cumberland University” who sold pills for Dodd in Tennessee, was arrested and thrown behind bars — the first member of their drug ring to get caught.

He would not be the last.

‘Generation Oxy” is Dodd’s tale of how he and his friends started selling pills for extra money in high school in 2006 and ended up overseeing a nationwide, multimillion-dollar drug ring that was making $40,000 ($A52,000) a month at its height.

Dodd, born in 1988 in New Port Richey, Florida, writes that he grew up in a trailer park with a “functioning alcoholic” mum and a philandering dad. He got stoned for the first time at age 10 and arrested, for marijuana possession, at age 13.

Dodd and his friends were athletic, on the wrestling team and prolific weed smokers. He met Barabas and his brother Landon, and their friend Richard Sullivan, at wrestling practice on his first day at Hudson High School in Hudson, Florida, in 2003, describing them as “a bunch of blond-haired, blue-eyed, wisecracking rich kids surrounded by a pool of the underprivileged.”

The four became inseparable, spending all their time wrestling, smoking pot and partying on the weekends.

Barabas was the control freak of the group, with Dodd writing that his Adderall was “the only thing keeping him somewhat under control.” His brother, Landon was “a ‘pretty boy’ with Captain America good looks” who “thrived on attention and was so vain he couldn’t pass a reflective surface without looking at himself.” Sullivan was an aspiring porn star whose goal was to “sleep with as many women as possible.”

Earning straight A’s in school, Dodd spent his weekends at parties at a friend’s double-wide trailer with about a hundred other students, drinking vodka and grain-alcohol punch and holding impromptu wrestling matches in the trailer after moving the furniture outside.

“It was more like a scene from ‘Fight Club’ than your typical high-school party,” Dodd writes. “There were always a few real brawls and lots of drinking.”

In February 2006, when Dodd was 17, he was arrested a second time for marijuana possession after a state trooper caught him smoking a joint in his car.

His mother kicked him out of her house, and he moved in with his grandmother, spending his time hanging out with his cousin Julian, who lived down the street.

Subject to weekly drug tests, Dodd writes that he and Julian “spent most of our time watching movies and getting wasted on oxycodone pain pills, a semisynthetic opioid used for managing severe acute or chronic pain.”

While marijuana shows up in drug tests for months, oxy leaves your system in just a few days.

Dodd was immediately taken with the narcotic.

“The warm soothing sensation of the oxycodone rushing through my veins, relaxing and loosening every muscle fibre within my body, was overwhelmingly euphoric,” he writes.

“The opiates washed away the anxiety and nervous tension of being a teen — a pharmaceutical escape from my dysfunctional life. Nothing had ever felt so good.”

The dealing began almost immediately afterwards. Knowing at least “a couple dozen people” who took oxy recreationally, Dodd thought he’d sell a few pills to make some extra cash.

He asked a cousin for a connection so he could buy a hundred pills and was hooked up with an “old, tatted-up, pot-bellied biker.”

“He was a crazy-looking SOB who lived in a single-wide trailer in a dirt lot behind the auto-body shop he worked at,” Dodd writes, “and he had two Dobermans that looked like they were ready to rip someone apart.”

Dodd bought 100 pills for $8 ($A10.50) each with money he earned working as a short-order cook at Hooters and hoped to sell them for $12.50 ($A16.35) apiece. He was unprepared for what happened next. He mentioned the pills to one friend who took 30 right away, and thanks to several others he had sold them all within three days.

Through word of mouth, he connected with a number of people who had prescriptions and were willing to sell him pills. His accidental drug empire constructed itself quickly.

“Within a few weeks I had over 2,000 pills coming in a month,” he writes. “I started selling them for $15 ($A20) per pill or 10-packs for $120 ($A157). I made almost five grand that first month.”

By about eight months into his new career, he was wholesaling pills a thousand at a pop and had saved $60,000 ($A78,000), some of which he spent on a new Jeep Cherokee Laredo.

Dodd’s friends wanted in, to feed their habits, their wallets or both. Lance, who he describes in the book as “an alpha-male gun nut with a big mouth, a Napoleon complex and ADHD,” was one of them. His brothers, Landon and Larry, also got involved, as did Sullivan. Soon, they were shipping pills in bulk for friends to sell from New York to Alaska and bringing in $40,000 ($A52,000) a month.

Dodd graduated from high school with honours in June 2007. He had never considered college, but hectoring from his grandmother led him to enrol in Pasco-Hernando State College with Lance. Higher education, though, couldn’t compete with the allure of cold, hard cash. On their first day, all Lance could talk about was the profitable new market his brother Landon had opened at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he had assembled a network of wrestlers and other students, including Knox, to deal for them.

“Landon told us there was such a huge demand for oxycodone, anybody and everybody with a back problem in Tennessee was driving down to Florida to get a prescription for roxies and oxys,” Dodd writes. (Florida was then known as a notoriously easy place to obtain prescriptions for opiates.)

“Justin calls it hillbilly heroin, [Landon Barabas said]. They love it.”

But as the enterprise grew, so did his friends’ addictions, leading to careless and reckless behaviour. Lance began talking openly about selling drugs in public and started spending money like he was Tony Montana in “Scarface,” buying boats and guns and dirt bikes for family and dropping thousands on drinks and dances at strip clubs, Dodd writes.

A control freak known to his friends as “the Little General,” Lance was “flashing his Glock .45 every chance he got.” By late 2008, when they were distributing over 20,000 pills a month, Lance — who had to be talked out of getting a customised license plate that read “OXY-80S” — would “get drunk and high, sit on his balcony with his AR-15 assault rifle and target people on the street with his laser sighting … that’s the kind of stuff Lance did, despite knowing he had $40,000 ($A52,000) in cash and a thousand pills sitting in his dresser.”

That same year, Dodd was taking $5,000 ($A6500) a month worth of pills, while more and more of his friends were selling their possessions to feed their habits.

It was inevitable that the police would catch on. Dodd’s luck ran out when Knox gave information to the DEA about what they were now calling the Barabas Criminal Enterprise. Lance, who had gone through a few colleges and had just enrolled at the University of South Florida, was fingered as the ringleader and was arrested at 5:30am on Oct. 27, 2009, as he was pledging his new school’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Several others from their operation, including Dodd, Sullivan and Barabas’ brothers Larry and Landon were arrested at the same time. The DEA seized “over $100,000 ($A131,000) in cash and between $30,000 ($A39,000) and $50,000 ($A65,000) worth of oxys” from Dodd.

Dodd co-operated with the authorities, was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, and was released in October 2014. Lance, meanwhile, received a 15-year sentence. He is the only member of the operation still behind bars and is set for release in 2022.

He’s incarcerated at the Miami federal correctional complex, and according to his e-mails to Dodd, says that he’s “running the f—ing place.”

While the case attracted media attention — Rolling Stone ran a feature story on it in 2015 — Dodd, still not yet 30, has worked to reorient his life. He received a certificate in logistics and distribution management from a technical school in 2016 and will graduate with an associates degree from Pasco-Hernando in 2018.

He notes with no small irony that his technical certification is through APICS — “a professional association for supply-chain management.”

“Yeah,” he writes. “I have a little experience in that department.”

He notes that he hopes to “work for a big company or start my own business one day,” and also emphasises that he no longer condones the actions depicted in the book.

“I put myself and many other people’s lives in danger,” he writes. “I was wrong for that.”

This article originally appeared in the New York Post and was reproduced with permission.

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Natalia Camp

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