Linda is what police and drug counselors call a cocaine prostitute. She sells her body for drugs.
A thin, 30ish woman with moss-green eyes and a button nose, Linda is also a wife and the mother of two small children.
Like the other rock cocaine users interviewed for this story, Linda asked that her real name not be used.
Linda has spent the last year checking in and out of treatment programs, trying to kick her $150-a-day rock cocaine habit. Prolonged use of the drug has left her emaciated, pale and nervous-looking. Right now her dependence on the drug is greater than her desire to be with her children, who are staying with her parents.
"I miss my babies, I really do," Linda said, snuffing out a cigarette during an interview at a Torrance restaurant. "But I can't be with them when I'm like this. I'm not proud of my addiction, but I don't try to make excuses either. You can't explain it anyway.
"I never thought anything could get a hold on me like this has. I need cocaine and I'll do just about anything to get it."
Linda had just dropped her two children off at a baby sitter near her Torrance home when she tried her first hit of rock cocaine.
She later said she was intrigued by "such a glamorous drug," and she showed little hesitation when a co-worker offered her a puff of rock cocaine, which is smoked instead of sniffed through the nose.
Linda tried another hit the next day with her husband. They shared two more rocks the day after that. Within six weeks they were both hooked.
Linda said she was eventually fired from her job as a department store credit clerk. As she tells it, she immediately emptied the family's savings account to support their $200-a-day habit. When that money ran out, she says she began hanging out in bars and hotels offering her body in exchange for drugs or drug money.
"I didn't realize what I was doing. I didn't even feel anything," Linda said. Whenever she started to realize she had a problem, she would get high to avoid thinking about it, she said.
"One day I brought home three rocks. I smoked one. My husband smoked one, and we had a fistfight to see who would get the third. That's when we sent the kids to my parents' house."
Eventually, Linda's marriage fell apart. Her husband lost his job as an insurance salesman and moved to the the East Coast to live with his parents. Linda's parents sent her through a series of inpatient treatment programs, though none has broken her cocaine habit.
"It's impossible for me to go back to my home and be surrounded by friends who still smoke. It doesn't work," Linda said.
Drug counselors say cocaine addiction is one of the most difficult drug problems to treat because it is so easy for patients to fall back into their old habit.
"Slipping back to cocaine is severe because it is so appealing and it is so easy to obtain," said Dr. Gerald Rozansky, director of the Centinela Hospital's Lifestarts drug treatment program in Inglewood. "Cocaine treatment is further complicated by the fact that patients don't go through the kind of physical withdrawal that reinforces the idea that drugs are indeed bad for you. After a week without cocaine, patients feel like their old selves."
Nathan, a high school senior who was once a chronic rock cocaine user, has managed to steer clear of cocaine since he "graduated" from his treatment program three months ago.
"I'm still trying to get my life together, but I'm pretty sure I can make it," Nathan said during a telephone interview arranged by a drug counselor.
Nathan went through a 12-week outpatient drug counseling program that included both private and family counseling. He also attended physical therapy sessions that helped rebuild the muscle tone he lost along with 20 pounds at the peak of his addiction.
"Physical therapy is almost as important as providing the patients with psychological help," said Carol Chaissen, a drug counselor with the Lifestarts program. "Most programs also offer occupational therapy to help patients plan how they are going to spend their time without using drugs. For people who are abusing drugs, the clock runs from one high to the next. Treatment tries to break them out of that mode."
Can Survive Without Drugs
"The most important thing I learned," Nathan said, "is that it really was possible to survive without drugs. I didn't think that was really possible in high school where there was so much pressure to use."
Nathan was introduced to rock cocaine at a high school party where fellow students persuaded him to try a "primo"--a marijuana cigarette laced with tiny rocks.
From there he went to smoking rock cocaine and eventually tried shooting the drug into his veins, but decided that smoking cocaine produced a better high and did not leave marks that could be detected by his teachers or parents.