‘Deceived, poisoned, murdered’
(Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series of articles about the fentanyl crisis that has killed thousands of people in Oklahoma and across the nation.)
By John Dobberstein, Editor
Rebekah Brown said her son “was a good kid,” not a troublemaker, and if he called someone his friend “you were truly blessed.”
At one point he was holding down a job, had just graduated high school and was talking about a career as an electrician.
But there were challenges as well: His mother described it as a roller coaster where he had spells of success with addiction and then subsequent struggles. His father died when he was 13, and after that Rebekah noticed her son became secluded and did not want to talk about the demons he was struggling with.
Cole went to a counselor, who could not break through the walls. “For some kids, it's really hard to put into words how you're feeling,” Rebekah said.
Not long after that, he was caught vaping – which Rebekah chalked up to a child experimenting – and he then began smoking marijuana. After that, he turned to taking pills, taking Adderall supplied from a friend in school. Cole also spent times battling depression, and a trip to a psychiatrist revealed he had clinical depression. He talked of suicide three times, Rebekah said.
She tried to put the pieces together on why her son’s life was seemingly tanking, which was made harder by him not wanting to share his feelings. “He was almost like self-medicating when he did those things. He didn’t want to feel the feelings he had.”
Despite his struggles, Cole graduated from Phoenix High School in Lincoln, Calif. a month ahead of his class. When he turned 18 he didn’t want to live under Rebekah’s house rules and started living with her parents.
“I actually thought it might be a good thing because, since his Dad had passed, I kind of had to be the Mom and Dad both. And I thought maybe having my Dad over him would provide a male figure for him,” Rebekah said.
Not long after graduation, Rebekah’s father called around midnight and said Cole wasn’t breathing. Rebekah sped over to her father’s house, scared about what happened because she hadn’t thought Cole was doing any drugs at the time.
“So I get over there and I can tell you it was like a scene out of a horror movie. No parent wants to see it – the flashing lights, police running around, the ambulance, the firetrucks,” she said.
When she entered the house paramedics were dragging him from the hallway to the front room. He had no pulse and was unresponsive. At that point she told police he dabbled in drugs.
The first responders gave Cole Narcan in the form of a shot. “And he shot right up and sat up and looked at me with this look, and he had no idea what had happened to him,” Rebekah recalls. “I said, ‘Cole, you were dead. Like, you were dead right in front of me.’ That’s all I could say to him. He said, ‘I'm sorry mom, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.’”
Cole was taken to the emergency room. “I would say he escaped death that day. And I really thought that would be the eye opener for him..”
Cole told her he thought he was taking Percocet and the nurse informed him that it probably had fentanyl in it, which he had never heard of. Rebekah thought the incident was random.
“So to me I thought, ‘Well, this must be a random thing.’ I had no idea how it’s in pretty much four out of five illicit drugs that you would buy on the street. I just didn’t comprehend how big of an issue it was at that point.
“So after he got out of the hospital we talked about it, obviously. You hope as a parent is that that’s enough of something to scare them to be like, ‘Hey, that's not what I want to do.’”
Four months later – on the day before Cole and his family were getting ready to move to Oklahoma – Rebekah lost her son to fentanyl. After vaping at his grandfather’s house he was asked to leave and Cole took a hotel room for the night.
Detectives told Rebekah Cole was set up to purchase a Percocet from a person that had a fake name. After taking the pill – which had been pressed to look like a legitimate M30 pill – and laying down, Cole died later that night.
According to authorities, Cole told the dealer several times in texts that he didn’t want any fake drugs and the dealer assured him that the product he was getting wasn’t.
“They just don’t care about these kids. They just care about the money,” Rebekah said. “He was deceived, poisoned, murdered.
Fourteen months after Cole passed, Rebekah struggles daily to fights off the ‘what if’ questions and keep grief from becoming unmanageable. “He’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed, you know, and throughout the day.”
Rebekah’s advice to parents is to pay attention to changes in their child or children’s behavior, especially if they start to withdraw or don’t want to do things they normally do, such as skipping school sports they normally participate in.
More red flags
Not bringing their friends around is another red flag, she added. “That was something Cole did a lot. He didn’t bring a lot of people around probably because he knew that I wouldn’t approve of what they were doing,” she said.
With the preponderance of cell phones, social media and encrypted chat apps, “I think parents need to really be up in their kids’ business. Do surprise checks on their phones. Look and see who they’re talking to.”
Brown also suggested parents talk to their children about the dangers of illicit drugs and how high the stakes are. “You literally don’t have good odds. You might have done it once or have done it a couple times, but it will eventually take your life. It's just a matter of time. Some kids don’t even get more than one chance, you know?
“I think it’s important to continue the conversation with your kids about how serious it is and how much you care about them and don’t want to lose them. And if you do see some signs, go to a counselor, go to your insurance, see if there’s any help you can get for them at an early age. And don’t wait until they’re 18. Keep fighting to get them the help that they need.”