SALT LAKE CITY — A mother should never have to grieve over losing a daughter from a fentanyl overdose but that’s exactly where Charla Bocchicchio found herself in 2016.
Charla’s daughter, Cassidy, was no stranger to substance abuse. She suffered from multiple mental health issues and frequently sought out illegal drugs. Cassidy’s experimentation with illegal drugs saw her use of heroin at the age of 15-years-old. Bocchicchio, an award-winning and well-renowned actress in Utah, described her daughter’s use of illegal drugs on the Project Recovery podcast.
Cassidy’s fentanyl overdose traced back to mental health issues at an early age
“In that developing young brain, it almost felt like she didn’t stand a chance,” Charla recalled. “At the time, what we were battling, as far as finding appropriate treatment and everything, it just felt like we were way in over our heads.”
Charla said her daughter’s mental health issues began in middle school according. By the time Cassidy was in middle school, there were clear signs of severe depression. She even began to self-mutilate to try and cope with her depression.
“It broke my heart to know that she was in so much anguish and that she didn’t have the tools to express it,” she said.
To try and help Cassidy’s mental health issues, she began a 28-day stay at a psychiatric youth unit at a nearby hospital. But unbeknownst to Charla, Cassidy’s issues went further than just the cutting, she had begun to experience suicidal thoughts at the age of 12 years old.
Unable to fight off the demons
After spending a week in the psychiatric unit, Cassidy was beginning to look better according to Bocchicchio.
“She seemed to be much better. She really did well in that setting. [Cassidy] was given some tools and so much care that she really did well,” she explained.
Cassidy would continue her recovery in an intensive outpatient care facility three days a week after school. But by the time high school came around, Cassidy’s struggles continued and she began to experiment with multiple illegal substances to numb her pain.
“At that time, it’s kind of experimentation for a lot of these girls but I think for Cassidy, she was looking for the next thing to make her feel better,” Bocchicchio said.
Unfortunately, Cassidy would begin to spend her time with friends that became a negative influence on her. To make matters worse, she would also spend time with a boy who pushed Cassidy’s drug use to its limits. All the while she was hiding it all from her parents — until disaster struck.
“We get a call from the police that a 9-1-1 call had been made from our daughter at our home. She had called 9-1-1 because her boyfriend had overdosed and was seizing on her bedroom floor,” Bocchicchio recalled. “They had injected cocaine.”
Cassidy tries to come clean
Coupled with an increase in substance abuse and a bad influence in the form of her daughter’s boyfriend, Charla knew she had to do something. So she began to look for a drug treatment center that could save her daughter.
“We found a program in southern Utah, near St. George in Hurricane called Sunrise and we called and we told [them] our story,” Bocchicchio said.
Cassidy broke up with her boyfriend and ultimately stayed her whole junior year of high school at the Sunrise Residential Treatment Center for Teenage Girls.
“She did beautifully. It was the first time we had hope,” “It was like I had my daughter back.”
Cassidy graduated from the program and was really doing well according to Bocchicchio, until her first relapse.
The dark reality of addiction
From that point on, Cassidy’s journey into addiction was extreme. She was constantly fighting her disease and continuously falling back into the arms of substance abuse. Cassidy vowed to quit heroin but in doing so, she began to abuse meth.
“She had a Xanax prescription. She was on a few mood stabilizers … she had tools but it was like she just craved this other, more powerful substance that was going to take everything away,”
Cassidy’s drive to fuel her addiction was at an all-time high following her relapse. Bocchicchio decided that she needed to make another change to help save her daughter. They relocated to Los Angeles, CA. in the hopes of starting fresh.
Unfortunately, Cassidy quickly became friends with others like her so she could use again. Once she became acclimated with her new location Cassidy found a different boyfriend who she could lean on to use with her. They got an apartment together and on November 11th, 2016, it all came crashing down.
The two of them decided they were going to shoot up heroin at his house. Unfortunately, the heroin that Cassidy’s boyfriend had purchased was laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The dosage was so intense that both of them began to lose consciousness. When her boyfriend woke up, Cassidy was unconscious. He immediately called 9-1-1 but it was too late.
Cassidy had lost her fight with addiction.
Charla uses writing as a way to cope with Cassidy’s fentanyl overdose
The grieving process of losing a loved one is unique to every individual. For Charla, she turned to writing.
“I felt this pull and purpose that telling my daughter’s story was really important moving forward,” she explained.
Charla says she never felt the urge to write a book about what happened. Her goal was to just get her thoughts on paper. There were so many memories swimming around in her head. She used writing to express the pain she was feeling. Charla began to write more and more about the loss of her daughter.
“I blogged for the first year after her death. Every so often I would write something amusing as it would come to me or some hard thing that I was dealing with. Things I was learning,” she described.
Finding solace in helping others
Charla’s blog began to gain more and more traction online. Viewers everywhere would recount their own experiences with losing a loved one to addiction. The support began to grow so much that she began getting requests to publish her story. After much thought, she decided that publishing her stories might truly help others overcome their losses.
So she found an editor and made it happen. As beneficial as it’s been for Charla, others have found solace in her book as well.
“I think there are so many different stages of the process of grieving someone. I’ve had people contact me days after their loved one has died of an overdose because they found the book … and they want advice,” Charla said.
The book has taught Charla many things about the process of grief. But now she’s just grateful for what she still has.
“Looking back at the book and my writing I’ve realized that I really had a lot of great tools that I didn’t even think were tools but that really helped me through this whole process,” she recalled. “One of them was finding gratitude in every moment.”
Listen to the podcast to learn more about opioid prevention
For more information on addiction or if you or someone you know is struggling, you can find more information on Facebook, KSL TV, or from Use Only as Directed. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.
You can also find Charla’s book, My New Normal: A Mother’s Story of Love and Loss in the Opioid Epidemic on Amazon.