‘Three boys lived, and Cooper did not’: Mother of teen who died of fentanyl overdose starts ‘keep clean’ campaign

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 12:01 PM CDT|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 2:24 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - It’s in the headlines every day. Fentanyl is killing innocent Americans every day. According to the CDC, between 2019 and 2021 fentanyl overdose deaths rose 350 percent. Sometimes, those headlines hit close to home, and people are forced to look beyond the numbers.

That’s true for Libby Davis of Shawnee.

“From the moment he could walk, that boy was climbing walls — climbing trees,” Libby remembers with a smile. “(He was) so adventurous, but he also had that mindset it will never happen to me.

But it did happen to him. Cooper’s sense of adventure may have ultimately led to his death. One night last summer, Cooper spent the night with some friends.

“The group decided they wanted to experiment with some Percocet,” said Libby. One of the boys bought the pills from a dealer in Missouri. The four boys split what they thought were two Percocet pills. The pills were laced with fentanyl.

“Three boys lived, and Cooper did not,” said Libby. At just 16 years old, Cooper died of an overdose.

Frightening numbers

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Rogena Patterson-King heads the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Kansas City District Office. Fentanyl is not just a problem on the coasts or large urban areas.

“More and more now, we’re seeing it’s landing here, and it’s affecting citizens here.” And it’s being added to all kinds of drugs. “We’re seeing it in meth, in cocaine, basically every other illicit drug.”

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says it’s similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. While it is a prescription drug used to treat patients in severe pain, it’s also made and used illegally. “Most of the chemicals are coming out of China and going into Mexico,” said Patterson King. And right into the hands of drug traffickers.

Patterson King says those distributing the illicit drugs don’t know or don’t care how much fentanyl gets added to what they’re selling. “That’s how these labs are,” she said. “There’s no oversight, there’s no measurements you never know.”

ALSO READ: US overdose deaths hit record 107,000 last year, CDC says

It’s kind of like making chocolate chip cookies, she said. No matter how much you mix the dough, inevitably one cookie will have one chocolate chip, while another has several. But while getting extra chocolate chips is a bonus, getting more fentanyl is deadly. A few grains is all it takes to kill a person.

“These traffickers have no regard for human life,” said Patterson King. “This situation is like no other, this is serious.”

And the amount of it coming into the area is staggering.

The number of fentanly-laced substances has increased dramatically just in the last year.
The number of fentanly-laced substances has increased dramatically just in the last year.(KCTV5)

Higher stakes — easier access

James Gunzenhauser, a senior master detective with the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department has seen the evolution of fentanyl. Previously, he was assigned to the DEA task force. He says a few years ago, meth and cocaine were the biggest issues. Now it’s fentanyl.

“They will cut it into anything, you’re even able to find fentanyl into marijuana now,” Gunzenhauser said. “They’re putting it in there because it’s cheap and it increases the highs, so people want it more.”

Detective Gunzenhauser said those buying it are usually younger and in more affluent communities.

ALSO READ: DEA, KC police warn parents of deadly counterfeit pills responsible for thousands of overdoses

“The money and the pills are the thing for the suburban kids,” said Gunzenhauser. “Because they have money to buy it.”

And he said, buying drugs is easier than ever. Buyers use social media to connect with sellers. There’s a code using a few special emojis to communicate.

“It can come straight to their house, you know?” said Gunzenhauser, “It’s a situation where we have to make the public aware.”

Operation Engage

To increase that public awareness, there’s a new partnership between law enforcement and the community. The mission of Operation Engage is to provide education on the dangers of fentanyl.

“We have to be vigilant,” said Patterson-King. “We have to be proactive. Right now, we’re seeing Fentanyl, so when we go out and talk to citizens and tell them ‘this is the threat for this area.’”

And it’s a deadly threat. Every pill taken is a gamble on life.

“Every time, it’s Russian roulette,” said Patterson-King. “You’re playing Russian roulette with your life.”

It’s a gamble Cooper Davis lost.

Keepin’ Clean for Coop

Libby said at the time of Cooper’s death, she wasn’t aware of the fentanyl crisis. Ironically, Libby is a nurse and her husband is a nurse anesthetist — someone who provides controlled pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl to post-operative patients.

“Being a nurse, having worked with this before, my husband works with it every day — It’s kind of a slap in the face,” said Libby.

To make others aware of the dangers of fentanyl, Libby and her husband started a campaign — Keepin’ Clean for Coop. They have a Facebook page by that name.

ALSO READ: Nearly 500% increase in seized fentanyl-laced pills in the US between 2018 and 2021, study says

Libby says she wants people to know it can happen to anyone and that’s why she shares Cooper’s story. She’s pushing for Public Service Announcements on TV, and education starting in elementary school. Right now, she’s organizing the 1st Annual Fighting fentanyl 5K scheduled for June 18.

“This is really the last thing I want to be doing right now,” said Libby. “But I also feel it’s the only thing we can do, because we don’t want Cooper’s death to be in vain. Something good has to come from this.”

For more KCTV5 investigative reports, click here.