"That's my son," Holbrook told The Epoch Times, pointing to a framed photo of her son and herself in her living room. There were more photos on her bedroom wall, and in a photo album she later brought out as well.
After shoulder surgery during his teen years, Cook was prescribed OxyContin, a strong opioid prescription pain medication to which he became addicted. Later, he began taking heroin and other drugs.
However, Cook had started to turn his life around in early 2020, when he got a job in the restaurant industry following a positive experience at a rehab facility. His mom was overjoyed that he was getting up in the mornings daily and going to work—he was finally clean from drugs.
IsolationLike many, Cook lost his job because of lockdowns imposed in response to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. He was living alone in his apartment at the time, and the isolation ended up taking a heavy toll on his mental health.
Cook had some level of depression before the pandemic, according to his mother. The lack of daily structure and steady income due to the shutdowns just made it worse for him.
"You can't go anywhere, you're concerned about seeing your parents, you're concerned about seeing your loved ones ... and he turned back to heroin," she said. "I think he was honestly trying to numb that feeling of being isolated."
Holbrook was furious over the fact that liquor stores were deemed "essential businesses," while Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings weren't. Those struggling with mental health issues and addiction had nowhere to turn to for help during the pandemic.
"People that don't understand this disease feel you can just walk away from it at the drop of a hat. And I know you cannot," she said. "I saw it firsthand with Chandler. He didn't like it, it wasn't something he enjoyed."
As a mother, when your child is a hostage to addiction, it's a difficult thing to go through, Holbrook said, noting that she has learned a lot through this whole process.
FentanylHolbrook wants to warn others of the dangers of opioids, and particularly fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and has spread throughout America like wildfire, sparking an overdose epidemic.
"They're placing fentanyl in these drugs nowadays, and it will kill you," she said. "I mean, it takes a very tiny, tiny amount of fentanyl in your system to kill you immediately."
Holbrook said her son was unaware there was fentanyl in his drugs.
"I don't think he knew that," she said. "In the heat of the moment, he did it not knowing what he had picked up off the street, and it killed him. He had fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin in his system, [according to] his death certificate when they did the autopsy."
Fentanyl "is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product—with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects," the CDC says.
In August of last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) put out a warning about the sharp increase in overdose deaths connected to fentanyl. Officials warned that other drugs are increasingly being laced with fentanyl.
PainThere isn't a day that goes by that Holbrook doesn't think about her son.
"He knows how much I love him and I miss him every day," she said. "I miss that smile. I miss not being able to talk to him and I think I struggle with that as a parent, thinking, 'Oh, I wish I could pick up the phone and call him today. Oh, I wish I heard his voice.' But one day, I will."
On some of her most agonizing days, she visits a local park and sits on a bench made in memory of her son that her friends purchased and the city had installed. Children play in front of it on a playground.
The day he overdosed, Holbrook recalled getting a text from a friend of her son, telling her that something was wrong. She ran to her car with her husband and drove to Cook's apartment, which was located in Jacksonville, Florida. But they were too late.
"I felt like I couldn't put one step in front of the other," she said.
Holbrook described her son as one of the most kindhearted people she has ever known, saying that he would give away his last $5 if someone needed it.
"He was so passionate about helping others," she said. "He wanted to help others because, as he states, it's a step by step [process] and it is a struggle every single day of your life."
Holbrook says those struggling with addiction need to push themselves to seek help.
"You can choose to continue to press forward and go and get the help that you need," she said. "Or you can continue to just stay where you are and then it's going to do nothing but spiral down.
"One thing I used to tell Chandler all the time ... if you continue to press forward and look forward, you're going to continue to better yourself. Never look back, because that's only going to end up hurting you."
"It's going to be the death of our young people," she said.
Holbrook herself struggles with another pain. She lives with neurofibromatosis, a rare condition that causes tumors to continuously form on her body's nerves. Every year, she needs surgery to remove them. But what gets her through it is her faith in God.
"I'm very strong in my faith. I love the Lord," she said. "I can remember one time just thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I wish I could just get a break sometime,' and the one thing I remember is God’s going to bless me abundantly."