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Danny Sciarretta could endure itchy six-month stretches without using heroin, but those tiny receptors in his brain never stopped screaming for a fix.

They begged him while he tried to concentrate in class at Penn State York. They nagged even as he was falling in love with a beautiful woman.

Craving and willpower set up opposing camps in the 26-year-old's brain, launching attacks at each other every day. For the last four years of his life, he had armed his willpower with a medication that blocked the euphoric effect of heroin so that even if he used, all he would feel is sick.

But the craving was still there.

If he were to decide to indulge, he would have to plan a relapse for days in advance, stopping the medication so he didn't get sick. That's what he started doing in May 2004.

In the days after his fatal overdose, his parents found the extra week of pills in his desk at their New Freedom home.

A fairy-tale ending: Sciarretta was an upper middle class kid, a good student with a lot of friends when he graduated from the private York Catholic High School, said his mother, Charlene Sciarretta.

She and her husband don't know when or why he started using, but his addiction was in full swing by the time he enrolled at Penn State, where his admission had to be reinstated twice because of relapses, she said.

She prayed for an end to the battle in her son's head, and it looked like that had finally happened when he fell in love with the bride's sister at his best friend's wedding in 2003.

"We thought, 'This is it, this is like a fairy tale,'" she recalled. "But it didn't work out that way. They were together almost a year when he died."

Charlene Sciarretta said she doesn't know what triggered his relapse.

"I don't think you can ever know for sure," she said. "He told me, 'I think about (heroin) every day.'"

Making choices: She doesn't like to use the name of the friend who was with Danny when he overdosed, though all of the details of his death were spelled out in legal documents.

According to court records, Danny Sciarretta and a friend were driving around York City and stopped at the home of a third person.

Sciarretta remained in the car and, according to testimony from that third person, it was immediately clear how serious Sciarretta's condition was — his eyes were blank and staring forward, his breathing was shallow and he was unresponsive.

The third person told the friend Sciarretta needed to go to a hospital, but the friend stopped the third person from calling 911 and said he would drive Sciarretta to the hospital.

But he never made it to the hospital, because the friend — who knew Sciarretta had injected heroin — parked Sciarretta's car next to Lincoln Park, left him locked inside and walked home, according to police.

He was found dead in his car the next morning.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.

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