AUSTIN (KXAN) — Casey Copeland wrote in his journal every day for six years. In it, he documents his goals, workouts and on a Monday last fall he wrote three words: “Make Drs Appt.”
It was his last entry.
“I found him there on the bathroom floor,” Carilu Bell, Copeland’s mom, said. “And I had no idea what had happened. It wasn’t until I had gotten his toxicology report back.”
Copeland, in his early-40s, died after taking Valium mixed with fentanyl. His mom said he was struggling with depression after the pandemic hit, and she believes he didn’t know the drug was mixed.
Now, Bell spends much of her days trying to educate people on the dangers of fentanyl so families aren’t put through the same pain she has experienced over the last year.
“I’ll never be the same person that I was before, and as hard as I try, I have good days and I have not-so-good days, but it’s certainly been life-changing,” she said.
Copeland’s family is far from alone. While we don’t usually get overdose death data until the medical examiner’s report comes out at the end of the year, Travis County Judge Andy Brown asked for numbers early this year.
They show that in the first six months of 2022, there were 118 fentanyl-related overdose deaths, meaning someone died of an overdose and had fentanyl in their system. It’s the exact same number Travis County saw in all 12 months of 2021.
Six months into 2021, there were 62 fentanyl-related deaths.
“At first I thought that it somehow was not comparing apples to apples,” Brown said when he was asked what he thought when he got the data. “It just didn’t make sense that these were the numbers that I’m seeing for the first six months … disbelief at first, and disappointment that this is getting worse in our community.”
The county is now diving into those numbers further, looking at who’s dying and where so it can look to possible long-term solutions.
“Most of them are on the I-35 corridor — where people are dying of overdoses — but we’re trying to look at that a little more,” Brown said. The county is expected to address some of those answers later this week.
Brown says it highlights the need for the government locally, and at the state level, to step in and provide solutions like more Narcan, legalizing fentanyl testing strips and getting people mental health resources.
“It’s something that is not unique to Austin, and Travis County, this is something that is happening nationwide, it’s happening statewide in Texas, it’s getting worse. I think people need to focus a lot more on this,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, Copeland’s mom says she will keep telling her son’s story with the hopes of warning others before it’s too late.
“There are so many families that aren’t talking about it. They don’t want anyone to know that their child died of an illicit drug,” she said.