Leandro De Niro Rodriguez, the only child of De Niro's eldest daughter, Drena, died last July in New York City
Robert De Niro calls the death of his grandson, Leandro De Niro Rodriguez, an “awful” tragedy.
Rodriguez, the only son of De Niro’s daughter Drena, 56, died at age 19 in New York City last July 2.
A month later, the New York City chief medical examiner's office confirmed to PEOPLE the teen’s death was caused by the “toxic effects of fentanyl, bromazolam, alprazolam, 7-aminoclonazepam, ketamine, and cocaine.”
In an interview with PEOPLE, the Killers of the Flower Moon star, 80, says he felt “disbelief” when he heard the news. “It’s just a shock,” he says. “[I] never thought it would happen.”
“And I just then started thinking about all the things I could have, should have done maybe with him,” continues the father of seven. “I don't know if that would've made a difference. And so that's always playing through my mind.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” he adds.
Less than two weeks after Rodriguez overdosed, New York resident Sophia Marks was arrested in connection with the death.
According to a criminal complaint obtained by PEOPLE at the time, "Marks sold a total of 50 suspected counterfeit oxycodone pills to an undercover police officer. On July 13, following Marks' second sale to the undercover officer, she was arrested and found to be in possession of approximately 156 more suspected counterfeit oxycodone pills and approximately $1,500 in cash."
Marks, 21, was charged with one count of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute fentanyl and alprazolam, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and two counts of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute fentanyl, each of which also carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement at the time that Marks sold “fake oxycodone pills that contained fentanyl.”
“At least one of Marks’s counterfeit pills was purchased and taken by a teenager who subsequently died of a suspected overdose. The arrest was critical because, as we allege, Marks knew the pills could kill, and she continued selling them anyway,” he continued, referring to Rodriguez without using his name.
A Washington Post analysis of death data for 2021 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
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