I-Team: Families want justice after designer drug deaths

Judith Varone raised her son Jason Cote as a single mom, and the two were close.

She worried when her only child joined the Marines and was deployed to Iraq, and rejoiced when he came home safe.

But when she struggled with addiction, it was Jason's turn to worry.

"She was just like any other mom. She took care of me. I was her only child. We were each other's support system. We were best friends," Cote said. "The stereotypical drug user is not the reality most of the time."

Varone first turned to drugs while her son was serving in Iraq in 2004.

She got clean and stayed that way for nearly decade, but started using again this year, with deadly results.

"It was probably the biggest obstacle in her life. She fought and fought and fought. She got help and she was doing great from a while. I thought she still was doing great," Cote said.

Cote discovered his mother's body inside her home in Lincoln on March 23, one of the first Rhode Island victims of a new, never-before-seen designer drug called acetyl fentanyl.

The drug is a man-made version of a powerful opiate found in hospitals, created in underground labs by someone with chemistry knowledge.

In October, the Health Department warned that the designer drug is now popping up in pill form on New England streets.

A few after his mother's death, Cote got a visit from DEA agents investigating the drug.

He showed them his mother's cell phone with text messages from the dealer who sold her acetyl fentanyl. But so far, there's been no word of any resolution.

"I wish I knew more information, it's been almost a year now. It's been a while. It hasn't just been a few weeks," Cote said.

It's the same concern the I-Team heard from Paul and Debbie Parenteau. Their son Paul Desrochers died in Woonsocket after taking acetyl fentanyl.

"My kid is a good kid. He's not a kid on the streets. He worked. This drug killed him," said Debbie Parenteau.

A suspect who was selling acetyl fentanyl in Woonsocket, Victor Burgos, was convicted in federal court on possession and distribution. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

But the U.S. Attorney's Office told NBC 10 there was no evidence Burgos was directly responsible for the overdose deaths.

"Fourteen people are dead. It's just not possible," said Paul Parenteau. "The people cooking this up ought to be getting close to a lifetime sentence, because they're pretty much killing everybody they're selling it to."

Cote agreed.

He wants to see someone prosecuted for producing the deadly drug, and putting it out on the streets.

"I would just like to know that there's been an end to this. Someone's been held accountable and they know who made this, who's been distributing it," Cote said.