Counterfeit Pill Made With Fentanyl Killed Young Father-To-Be

2-year-old Joseph Gabriel Patterson never met his father, who died after taking a counterfeit oxycodone in February 2015.

Before he died of a fentanyl poisoning on February 15, 2015, 23-year-old Joe Patterson had a lot to look forward to.

The Georgia resident had been working for Sherwin Williams while he pursued a degree in exercise science. He wanted to be a personal trainer–ideal because he was truly committed to physical fitness. He was expecting a baby in April 2015, and he was preparing to be a devoted father. He had even picked out his son’s name: Gabriel.

Instead, in February, everything went wrong.

According to his mother, Lisa Hicks, on Valentine’s Day weekend, Joe pulled a muscle during his customary gym workout. It hurt a lot, so Joe called a friend, Casey Trichel, to ask whether he could buy some oxycodone to deal with the pain. It must have seemed like no big deal to Joe to buy them from a friend rather than going to a doctor. Joe had planned to spend the evening at a cousin’s house, so he met up with Casey, made his purchase, and went on with his plans.

That evening Casey tried half of a tablet of the medicine he’d sold, and realized that there was something wrong with it. He made a bunch of phone calls trying to contact Joe–even calling Hicks–to tell him the pills were dangerous, but it was too late.

After Casey called, Hicks (with a sense of foreboding) tried to get in touch with her son, but she didn’t hear anything. The next morning, Joe’s stepfather, Julian, called her at work to tell her that he’d received a call that something was wrong with Joe. When Hicks and her husband got to the cousin’s house in Gainesville, Georgia, they found their son dead.

As the investigation unfolded, Hicks learned that Joe had died of a massive poisoning because the pills he thought were oxycodone were actually made of fentanyl. Worse, it might have been possible to save his life: the three people at the house had panicked and never called 911.

After being charged with felony murder, Casey Trichel pleaded guilty to distribution of fentanyl and involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2015. Joe’s case was the first fentanyl murder prosecuted in the state of Georgia, and, according to Hicks, other agencies in Georgia are using his case to prosecute others for similar crimes.

Since Joe’s death, Hicks has been busy. Her grandson was born on April 9, 2015, a day before Joe would have been 24. She and her husband are raising the child, who she renamed Joseph Gabriel Patterson, adding his father’s name to the name her son had already chosen. Working with another bereaved parent on, she has been steadily raising awareness about the drug’s victims in an effort to honor the dead and save lives. And, she’s pushing hard for Joe’s Law, a bill in the Georgia state legislature that would increase penalties for people dealing these dangerous drugs, and enable prosecution of people who stand by overdose victims without offering help.

Through all this work, Joe is always on Hicks’ mind. “I have Joe's photo on my desk with a plaque below it,” she told us. “It says that if love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.”