He was a top salesman with a $200,000-a-year salary, a family and a house in McLean. Already a drinker, he began experimenting with cocaine. "I didn't even like it that much," he said, "but it just gave me sort of a new feeling -- like I was in the 'in crowd' of something."
Only after he had acquired a $400-a-day habit and could no longer pay his suburban drug debts did he venture into the District, seeking new dealers. "At my bottom, I was hanging around 14th Street and places I wouldn't even go at noon today," he said.
Today, he is 40 and has been drug-free for 1 1/2 years, thanks to a Fairfax County drug treatment center. But he is familiar with the suburban cocaine scene and agrees with the recent assessment of Fairfax police: The drug is being bought and sold in record volume in suburban bars, restaurants, shopping centers and houses.
"Some people think it's more prevalent in the city than in the suburbs, but the fact is, it's prevalent every place," he said. "It's not hard to find."
According to a Rand Corp. report released Thursday, drug use is extensive in the suburbs as well as in the District.
Drug treatment programs also bear witness to the increase in drug use. Between 1978 and 1986, admissions to area treatment programs rose by 135 percent, according to the Rand report, which was commissioned by the Greater Washington Research Center and other area organizations.
In 1980, the number of people admitted to Prince George's County treatment programs was 2,211, and there was no waiting list, said Michael Fuller, director of the addictions division at the Prince George's County Health Department. Last year, 3,500 people were admitted, often with a waiting list of two months or more.
"I've been in this business for 18 years, and I can't think of a time when it is as bad as it is right now -- where the demand for treatment is far outpacing our ability to deliver services," Fuller said.
Although PCP remains the primary drug of choice among Prince George's drug users, it is quickly being replaced by cocaine, Fuller added. "The cocaine problem is evolving as we speak."
In wealthy Fairfax and Montgomery counties, police officers, treatment center officials, recovering addicts and others echo that assessment.
That cocaine has become so readily available in the suburbs should surprise no one, said Mario Perez, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration's Washington office.
"You can buy almost anything here, from a Boeing 747 to a kilo of cocaine," he said. "You're in the most important city in the world, and everybody's making money."
About 40 percent of the 30 patients at the Addiction Treatment Center at Bethesda's Suburban Hospital are there for cocaine, said Peggy Corner, patient care manager.
Corner said that while the number of beds for addicts has increased from 20 to 30 in four years, there's still an average of a week's wait for admittance to the program.
When Fairfax Hospital Systems' 20-bed Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Services (CATS) program opened in 1982, most of its patients were alcoholic. "But, in the past couple of years, we've seen a tremendous increase in cocaine and marijuana use, especially," said Anne Mase, program director.
CATS has changed its admissions criteria to better serve drug patients and has retrained its staff, she said. The program is now so popular that most of last year CATS had a waiting list, averaging about a week's wait, Mase added.
Last year, most of the nearly 450 adult patients treated were Fairfax residents. Nearly all were employed, and included pilots, lawyers, pharmacists and real estate agents, she said. Most were male, and most sought treatment because they could no longer afford their drug habits.
Cocaine addiction is often not seen by itself, and about 70 percent of patients suffered from various forms of substance abuse, including the common alcohol-cocaine combination, said Mase and Maureen Schneider, clinical coordinator of the program's residential component.
"Five years ago, when we first opened the hot line, people were basically telling us that they were using cocaine and no other drugs," said Ronnie Lonoff, a supervisor at the 1-800-COCAINE nationwide emergency hot line.
"At this point, if you ask people if they're using other drugs, 99 percent of the time the answer is 'Yes.' "
Alcohol and cocaine are so frequently taken together -- liquor helps slow the crash that follows a cocaine high -- that Bob Norton, program director of Reston Hospital Center's Addictions Recovery Service, compared their use to "peanut butter and jelly."
Norton sees more suburban alcohol-cocaine and marijuana abuse than anything else, but patients also suffer from addiction to other drugs, including heroin and PCP. He said that at least 50 percent of the patients have family members who have suffered alcohol or chemical dependency.
One indicator of the extent of drug use is the number of telephone calls received by police. In Fairfax County, for example, calls related to drug activity as a whole are running 400 percent higher than those in the early 1980s, police say.
Last year, Fairfax police drug confiscations were double the net worth of drugs seized during 1986, bringing the total "We used to laugh at those commercials, the ones about 'Cocaine -- it's a lie.' We would sit there and be doing it, and laugh and say, 'Ha, ha, ha -- I'm an addict.' "
-- N. Virginia office manager
street value to $2.95 million, of which more than 80 percent was cocaine.
Employee Assistance Programs are a growing source of drug treatment referrals, the Rand report said.
More businesses are testing workers for drugs, said Anna Farrell, program manager for CONCERN, an employee assistance organization that contracts with more than 50 Northern Virginia firms, ranging from construction to computer.
Increased suburban drug use also is verified by the heightened interest in nonprofit drug fellowship groups for recovering addicts, and in hot lines.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) holds 65 open meetings a week in church basements, community centers, hospitals and treatment centers throughout Northern Virginia -- or, triple the number held just three years ago, a participant said.
NA does not keep track of the numbers of those attending meetings, or conduct polls, but the meetings are popular, and a vast majority of those who attend have been "exposed" to cocaine, judging from their conversation, the participant estimated.
Drug addicts, especially those suffering from alcohol abuse, also often turn up at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which are more numerous, and at Cocaine Anonymous sessions, such as that held each Monday at 8:30 p.m. at Dominion Hospital, 2960 Sleepy Hollow Rd., in Falls Church.
"I've gotten quite a few calls from Virginia," said Harold Bell, who runs a 24-hour-a-day cocaine hot line (C-O-C-A-I-N-E) out of his house in Southeast Washington.
Spokesmen for Mount Vernon and Fairfax hospitals said they see few drug cases in their emergency rooms, but hospital statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that medical complications involving drug use in the Washington suburbs are on the rise.
The number of area suburban cocaine-related emergency room visits increased from 1.9 per thousand visits in 1985 to 2.8 per thousand in 1986, said Ann Blanken, a drug institute statistician, using information volunteered by some area hospitals.
She could not release figures provided by individual hospitals, she said, and no such statistics could be obtained from the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.
The Rand report found that "the suburban Washington rate of cocaine mentions per 1,000 emergency room admissions was higher than the rate in the District of Columbia, whereas in other metropolitan areas the rate was much lower in the suburbs than in the central city."
"People are using cocaine as if it was going out of style," said Perez, the DEA spokesman.
Typically, cocaine costs a bit more in the suburbs, but it's often of a better quality, he added.
The average age of cocaine-related admissions to Washington-area emergency rooms is about 28 years, as compared with 31 for heroin and 25 for PCP, according to the Rand report.
But in Prince George's, 35 of the persons admitted to public drug treatment programs in fiscal 1987 were under the age of 14, said Fuller. Most were addicted to PCP, and some to cocaine.
Fuller noted that the real increase in Prince George's cocaine use, and the first rumblings of heavy use of the cocaine derivative "crack," including among minors, have occurred since 1986, which is the most recent year Rand researchers studied.
Crack is the smokable version of cocaine that is relatively inexpensive to buy, but highly addictive. It sells for about $15 to $20 a vial, with three or four chunks per vial, Fuller said.
A 25-year-old office manager for a Northern Virginia commercial real estate firm described her previous drug use as roughly a $500-a-day "strictly suburban" habit.
"All I have to do is make one phone call and I can get as much as I want," she said. "It's insane. It's so available. You can go into any bar and get it."
Her husband used cocaine and a roommate sold the drug, she said.
"We were living in a single-family neighborhood, and people were coming over 24 hours a day, and they'd stop in for 20 minutes and leave. People aren't stupid; the neighbors had to know what was going on."
"It scares me," she added, "because not enough people know just how bad it is. We used to laugh at those commercials, the ones about 'Cocaine -- it's a lie.' We would sit there and be doing it, and laugh and say, 'Ha, ha, ha -- I'm an addict.'
"I was totally paranoid," she said of her cocaine days. "It was all I could think about . . . . I didn't want to do anything if I couldn't have it. Even if I did have it, all I wanted to do was more.
"I would go up in my room and sit there by myself, doing line after line after line."