Harrison Hays was grabbed so violently by a devilish little pill that little else mattered.

His parents meant nothing compared to his friends and the Xs and Os of football on Friday nights were laid to waste by the thought of snorting "Ox."

"I was so addicted that I couldn't care less about anything else," Hays said recently. "When I say anything, I mean anything. It was always the thing on my mind. When am I going to get my next high?

"I was friend-based and didn't care about my family. I wanted to be with my friends all the time because that's where I could get my fix. My mind was never once on football on a Friday night."

Not when there was somewhere else he could be, grounding oxycontin into a magical dust and savoring what has been described as the perfect high because there is no hangover, doesn't cause you to lose control and there are no signs that it is being abused.

Cozy Hays, Harrison's mother, can attest to the latter.

"We had no clue, of course, until a friend of his told us when Harrison ran away and one of his friends called his cell phone," she said. "I answered it and he told me Harrison was doing prescription drugs.

"It's a lot more prevalent around here than anyone wants to admit."

Oxycontin is one of the most popular narcotic painkillers in America. Introduced in 1995, it was considered a godsend to people with chronic pain, arthritis and cancer patients because it delivered a dose of pain relief that lasted more than 12 hours.

But long-lasting relief doesn't cut it for abusers, who want the quick fix - by any means possible.

So the pills are chewed, smashed, snorted, shot through an IV and ingested any way thinkable to get past the outer shell that delays the release. It comes with an addiction level that matches other opiate drugs like heroin and methadone, according to Addiction-Treatment-Help-Line.com and several other websites.

Cozy said she believes there is an epidemic going on in Ahwatukee Foothills and other communities among high school kids. It can start with the use of marijuana, which she believes some parents take too lightly, and take off from there.

The Tempe Union High School District wouldn't comment on how prevalent prescription drug use is within its schools.

Cozy has seen enough to know that her son's near demise was anything but a singular incident.

"The thing we learned, and we had no clue, it starts with the pot," she said. "I'm sorry, but I have a lot of friends who think it is no big deal that their kids use pot. I used to be the same way. I used to hear it was a gateway drug and I guess I never really knew what that meant. Well, hello, now I do because that is where it all started."

Hays, 17, wasn't a drinker, but used marijuana, for which he was suspended from Desert Vista in April 2008, before moving on to the prescription drugs, which were readily available and undetectable.

"All I had to do was ask a friend, and it was there the next day," said Hays, who paid between $55 and $60 per 80 milligrams. "It came from a grandparent, their own personal stuff or wherever they could get it. No matter where you go it is going to be easy to get."

Hays is back at Desert Vista for his senior year of high school after spending a short time being homeschooled, enrolled and taken out of Mountain Pointe and placed in a boarding school in Nevada called Horizon Academy.

"It was such a hard choice to go back to Desert Vista because it is where it started, but no matter where you go, it is going to be around," Hays said.

He is proud to say he has been drug free for more than 20 months (it will be 21 months on Aug. 18) and his 15 months at Horizon Academy changed the way he makes decisions.

It took a long time to get to the point where Hays has been welcomed back to the football program and his parents felt comfortable putting him back into a public school.

"I'm glad he is back and I wish the best for him always," said junior quarterback Hunter Rodriguez, who is battling Hays for the starting spot, along with sophomore Matt Young. "It would be hard to miss that much time from football and come back, but he is doing it."

Hays entered Horizon on May 1, 2009, after his behavior reached a level of no return.

He was sober, but was hardly on the straight and narrow. Hays was still selling drugs, getting caught out past curfew, fighting and just wreaking havoc.

"It was ruining the family to the core," Cozy said. "It was a hard decision (to send him to Horizon) and as a parent you don't feel good. They think it is easy. It's not. It is the hardest decision ever.

"Personally for me, there wasn't a choice in my mind. My choices were either to send him there or ... get a casket."

It's what Hays considers his rock bottom.

"My lowest point was sitting up at (Horizon) in the office when they told me I was staying there," he said. "I was originally told that is where I was going to end up if I stayed on the same path. Then (his parents) told me this was the hardest decision they ever had to make, but that I was staying here.

"The thing that I eventually realized was when they told me that I wasn't going to see my friends, the ones I did this with, anymore. Not that I wouldn't see my sister or my family but my friends.

"I was all friends based and not family based at all."

Considering on this day Hays was proudly sitting among his Desert Vista football teammates for the team picture, wearing his crisp-looking No. 6 jersey, on media day things have changed drastically for the family.

"When I told the seniors that Harrison was coming back to the program, the seniors were happy and ready to accept him," Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. "When he was the starter (at QB on JV) as a sophomore he was a leader and that's what these guys remember."

Chances are two years ago, Hays would have left the gym after the team picture and made a beeline to hang with one of his former friends. It wouldn't be long before he'd be feeling the effects of another dose of oxycontin.

The moment wasn't lost on him or his mother.

"He has only been back for a week and there is a long way to go, but to be at this point is amazing," Cozy said on Saturday. "It could have gone wrong so many ways, but we are all very thankful for where we are at right now."

Hays, who is the grandson of former Arizona State head coach and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Larry Marmie, is ready to resume the rest of his life with a new understanding.

"I feel like being at home again, I have a lot riding more on my football career and schooling," Hays said. "I am not just doing this for myself. I get to represent my family and the roots of the family in football. Football is in our veins.

"My mom, dad (Jeff) and grandpa are out there watching (practice) and getting involved. It has been good vibes all around and it is great to see them at my practices."

It's a startling change from 15 months ago when their mere presence would have probably sent Hays into a frenzy of paranoia.

"Before it would have been, ‘Why are you looming over me?'" he said. "‘Why are you at my practice? Leave me alone.' Now, I am thankful that they are coming and I will not take my family for granted. Football and family go together."

Hays left Nevada two weeks early to join the football team's first week of practice and to start school on time.

He will return to Horizon for graduation ceremonies on Aug. 19. It will be one last chance to renew friendships that will last a lifetime - a life that no longer has room for certain people, a devilish white pill and their abusive ways.

"There is no way I am letting this opportunity pass me by," Hays said. "After 15 long months, there is no way I am going to let it go down the drain now. I have worked too hard, I have been away from my family too long and there are so many positives in my life, it is not worth giving that up.

"Some of my old friends have already tried to contact me through other people, but I am not going to be part of that. When it comes down to it, when I see them in the hall, I will say hi and be polite but there is no way you are going to catch me with those kids outside of school.

"(Boarding school) didn't change my character. I am going to be outgoing but it did change my decision making. Right and wrong is always right there in front of you. The school taught me to make the right decision and that every choice is going to benefit my future and my family."

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