CHATHAM — Scrawled in a notebook on Danielle Fallon’s nightstand beside her bed at her Hudson Avenue apartment is a list.
“Go back to college. Open my own restaurant. Make up with my father. Visit my mother for vacation. See the ocean.”
It’s a list of things Danielle planned to do after she had sworn off her addiction to pills.
It is also a list of things that will never be.
On Sept. 22, the Chatham restaurant manager was found lying a few feet away on the floor of her bathroom, dead from an apparent drug overdose.
She was 26.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is awaiting results of a toxicology report to determine the exact cause of Danielle’s death.
Danielle’s mother, Heather DeFrancesco, believes it was a mix of pills cut with the deadly drug fentanyl that ultimately killed her daughter.
If the results are conclusive, Danielle’s would be the first reported pill—and—fentanyl—related death in Columbia County.
Sheriff David Bartlett said he and his deputies are “aggressively going after” heroin opioid drug dealers in Columbia County.
Fentanyl is an opioid so strong that skin contact can kill a person, he said.Deadly and Dangerous
“Fentanyl is very dangerous and deadly,” Bartlett said. “With fentanyl, all you have to do is get a small amount of it in you and it could be fatal. It is not only dangerous for the people using it, but for law enforcement, as well. If they (law enforcement) do a raid and the person throws the drugs or throws the fentanyl, and it is ingested by breathing it in or gets on their skin — it can be really dangerous.”
In many cases of overdoses of fentanyl, it is typically cut with heroin, Bartlett said.
“It really makes the heroin so much more potent,” Bartlett said. “...We’re seeing [a] pattern, heroin laced with fentanyl. We don’t have hard evidence in any pills — we haven’t seen any of that yet.”
On Sept. 28, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced legislation to add 11 types of fentanyl to the controlled substance list, allowing law enforcement to crackdown on dealers who manufacture and sell the drugs.
“This drug is so powerful that the anti-overdose medication that they prescribe, called naloxone — they need five times more naloxone to bring back a person from a fentanyl overdose than they do from a heroin overdose,” Cuomo said in a YouTube video. “Just think about that. Five times more of the same drug.”
The number of deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses topped 64,000 in 2016, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths. That’s an increase of more than 22 percent over 52,404 in 2015.
And it's synthetic opiods, primarily fentanyl, that are pushing the death count higher and higher, according to officials.
New York Health Department reported there were two overdose deaths in Columbia County in 2010. Columbia Memorial Hospital reported nine overdose deaths in 2015; 11 in 2016. So far in 2017, the number reached 11 in September.
In a recent meeting about the proposed Greene County Jail, officials reported the county has the third-highest reported overdose deaths in the state.
At her daughter’s funeral, DeFrancesco held up a small pink Minnie Mouse onesie to the packed crowd of friends and family that gathered at Bates and Anderson Funeral Home at 110 Green St. on Sept. 27.
It was the outfit DeFrancesco brought Danielle home from St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany 26 years ago.
She then spoke directly to the crowd, pleading with them not to follow in the footsteps of her only child.
“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this,” she said. “Please, if you’re struggling, there is help.”Heart of Gold
Friends describe Danielle as outgoing, stubborn, strong-willed, tenacious and kindhearted. She loved listening to and making music on her computer and drawing and coloring. She could eat an entire jar of pickles in one sitting and loved her grandmother’s grilled cheeses.
She had recently submitted her online application to Columbia-Greene Community College.
“She was a goofball,” said Joslyn Stone, her friend since sixth grade. “She was always joking around and trying to make people smile.”
“She had this smile and giggle — how could you not like her,” DeFrancesco said. “She had this infectious joy.”
Danielle would often open her apartment to anyone who needed a place to stay, Stone said.
“She was one of the best people that I had ever met,” Stone said. “She was one of the biggest-hearted people. She let people come into her house if she knew they needed a place to stay, even if she only knew you for a week or two she would go out of her way for you. She was a beautiful soul.”
If the love of friends and family were enough, it would have saved Danielle. She had plenty from each. But the pull of drugs ultimately proved too strong.
Danielle struggled with depression since high school, when her addiction problems began starting with marijuana, her mother said.
One of Danielle’s last Facebook posts is a quote from a song by the rock band Creed: “I have created my own prison.”Falling Out
About a year before her death, DeFrancesco and her daughter had a falling out over her drug abuse and seeking treatment.
Danielle’s stepfather took her to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to show her how she can overcome and live drug- and alcohol-free, but nothing seemed to convince her to get help, DeFrancesco said.
They faced a dilemma many family and friends of addicts face: To continue to help and enable her daughter’s addiction or cut her off, hoping she hit rock bottom and learn to stand on her own two feet.
Danielle’s mother and stepfather told Danielle that she had to seek treatment and admit her problem with pills or move out.
“It broke my heart completely because I was always there to fix things,” DeFrancesco said. “It torments me because I couldn’t fix this.”
After Danielle moved out, DeFrancesco still kept tabs on her daughter. DeFrancesco asked friends to check in at Yianni’s restaurant, 29 Hudson Ave., where Danielle worked.
On Sept. 6, a few weeks before Danielle’s death, DeFrancesco broke down and texted her daughter.
“I just missed her,” DeFrancesco said. “I missed hearing her voice and hearing her giggle. I was trying to do the tough-love thing. She had so much pride and stubbornness — more stubbornness than anyone I had ever met. I knew she wouldn’t reach out on her own and I wanted to open the door.”
Danielle responded by telling her mother she had been clean for four months.
“She said, ‘I love my job,’ and she told me she loved her life, and she had never been as happy as she is right now,” DeFrancesco said. “She had apologized for everything she put us through and she told us she had been sober for four months... off of any kind of drugs. She had slipped a few times, but she was doing really well.”
Danielle also talked about her plans for the future.
“She loved to cook,” DeFrancesco said. “She wanted to be a famous chef. She was very good at cooking. The last I heard her say, she wanted to go to the Culinary [Institute of America]. She told me working in the restaurant had taught her so much.”
About two weeks later, Danielle died. A friend discovered her body several hours later.
While walking through her apartment after her death, Danielle’s mother discovered her daughter’s notebook on a nightstand near a jar of pickles. Flipping through the pages of doodles and drawings, she stopped suddenly.
“I burst into tears when I saw it because she had a future planned,” DeFrancesco said about the list. “I started screaming. I just dropped. She didn’t want to die. It felt like a waste. In one night, she made a mistake and it’s over. She had so much to live for. She had so many dreams, and drugs just took them all away.”
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.
For additonal services:
Columbia County Sheriff’s 24-hour, confidential criminal tip line can be reached at 518-822-8477.
For anyone who needs help and treatment with their substance use disorder, contact Twin County Recovery’s Hudson office can be reached at 518-828-9300 or at its Catskill office at 518-943-2036. Columbia Pathways to Recovery’s recovery helpline can be reached from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week at 877-467-3365.