NC advocates to join national rally on fentanyl crisis in U.S. 

Advocates who are fighting to keep fentanyl off the streets say more needs to be done. ABC11 (Raleigh) interviewed Patricia Drewes and Beth Moore for this story.

ABC11 coverage of Fentvic Meetup #12

Coverage from the 6PM edition:

Coverage from the 11PM edition:

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — It’s a problem that’s become all too common.

In Durham County alone, the sheriff said last year they seized 3.7 grams of fentanyl from the streets. This year, so far over 300 grams have been removed.

On Saturday the group Fentanyl Victims of North Carolina held its 12th meet-up in Durham.

Natalie Beauchaine proudly shared a photo of her son Jake.

“He was smart he was giving he was loyal if he was your friend he was your loyal friend,” Natalie said.

But behind his smile was also a battle with addiction that ultimately turned tragic.

“It was not an overdose, it was something that he thought was heroin,” Natalie said.

ALSO SEE: ‘World No Tobacco Day’ highlights effort to curb the use of vaping in youth

The heroin was laced with a fatal amount of fentanyl. In the midst of her grief, Natalie found community among other members of a club no one wants to be a part of – families of fentanyl victims.

“It doesn’t know race, it doesn’t know color, it doesn’t know socioeconomic background, it affects everybody,” she said.

Around a table, other families shared similar stories, including how many were caught off guard by what has become a silent killer.

“Marijuana can be laced with fentanyl and sometimes fentanyl can even be in water or soda as far as a child is concerned, and you don’t know that it’s there which is really really dangerous,” said Dr. Wanda Boone.

Dangerous also because of how cheap and prevalent it is.

“It is an economic boon to the drug trade,” said Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead.

Birkhead said his office is working to get fentanyl off the streets.

“Once they get it, they can take those 3.7 grams or those 300 grams and just multiply it exponentially,” he said.

One solution they’re fighting for is making sure naloxone is available in every school in the state. They’re also hoping these stories and legacies save lives.

“I just don’t want to see any other families go through this. It’s a horrible grief and it’s just something that nobody else has to go through,” Natalie said.

Wake County approved naloxone in all schools but not every county has them. State Senator Mike Woodard said it would only cost around $350,000 to supply naloxone statewide and he’s hoping to get it into the state budget.

Read the story and watch the video on the ABC11 News website.

Raleigh teen carrying Narcan saves life by the side of the road

A Leesville Road High School student was heading to downtown Raleigh to run errands when she saw something on the side of the road. Victoria Taton ended up saving a man from a dire situation.

A senior at a Raleigh high school now has a rare, first-hand account of the power of the life-saving drug naloxone.

A Leesville Road High School student was heading to downtown Raleigh to run errands when she saw something on the side of the road.

Victoria Taton ended up saving a man from a dire situation.

Taton was driving near Crabtree Valley Mall, running errands in the busy afternoon rush hour, when she saw two young men in the distance. One of them was lying on the ground. She trusted her gut – waited for a red light, and went over to them.

“I asked them, what’s going on?” she said. “I kept my distance. He’s telling me that his friend is on the ground not responding. And he’s not sure what’s happening. But he thinks it might be an overdose from the symptoms that he was seeing.”

Taton raced to get the Narcan in her car — raced back, and administered it in the stranger. It worked.

“It takes anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to work,” Taton said. “In about 30 seconds to 60 still with the EMS on the phone, he comes out of the state of response that he was in. He throws up. He’s coming in and out of consciousness. The EMS are telling us that.”

Officials are still combating the stigmas around naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan. But more and more people are carrying naloxone kits to keep them and their peers safe. Taton said she’s been carrying it with her for two years.

“I just felt that it’s a really good thing to carry,” Taton said. “You really just don’t know anymore. Especially with kids our age, going off to college soon, you just don’t know. I just thought it was safe to carry it from then on.”

Her instincts proved right. Taton hopes her experience will motivate others to consider carrying Narcan.

“They said he most likely would be OK because we did the right thing,” Taton said. “If we weren’t there, he probably would’ve died. We weren’t sure what he took, but because we acted quickly, yeah.”

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools passes Narcan policy unanimously, parents reflect

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools votes unanimously

WINSTON-SALEM — Numbers from Forsyth County show that 22 minors have overdosed within the first three months of this year. The average age of those children is 11 years old.

Annie Vasquez with Forsyth Regional Opioid & Substance Use Team thinks that adding the life-saving drug to schools makes the biggest of difference.

“So I feel better that somebody at each of my kids’ school will know how to use Narcan, and will have it available to them,” said Vasquez.

Vasquez is an opioid survivor herself and says that this policy gives peace of mind for her own children.

“My personal story of making it out alive, I hope, will both inspire other folks that they can do it, or their family member can do it. But I also am here to advocate for all of those people that do use drugs now, that there is hope out there,” said Vasquez.

Andrea Scales lost her son Jeremiah Scales to fentanyl overdose and speaks about how this policy resonates.

I lost my son to unknowingly ingesting fentanyl, and this happened June 3rd of 2022. This coming Monday will be two years since his passing. Jeremiah was my only child and it makes me feel so good to be able to be apart of the change. This will change a life,” said Scales.

The school board passed the policy unanimously, with the end goal to carry Narcan in all of their schools.

Read the article on the ABC45 News website.

Davidson County nonprofit pushes for opioid overdose-reversing drug in all NC schools

Narcan is becoming more readily available in public places, including this free vending machine in the Forsyth County Detention Center. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools officials are considering placing the opioid overdose-reversing drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, in all of its schools. That’s something Barbara Walsh of Davidson County would like to see happen statewide. She lost her daughter, Sophia, to an accidental overdose. 

Wake Forest University student Marc Isabella spoke to Walsh about her advocacy through the nonprofit she started, Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina. 

Interview highlightsOn the goals of her nonprofit: 

“I did not know how to spell fentanyl when my daughter died, but it appears to me that the focus is on the numbers. And the numbers just really don’t mean much until you put faces to them. That’s what the goal is. I am finding families every day who have lost someone to fentanyl. They typically feel very alone, thinking their child was the only one who has died this way. But that’s not true.”

On her priorities for addressing the opioid crisis:

“In North Carolina, I would like to see Naloxone in all 100 counties. That’s the easiest way to save a life. We think all the schools should have it just in case a student does something… If they have Naloxone on school premises and somebody goes down and has a fentanyl emergency in the bathroom, they can save her life. And if they don’t have a fentanyl emergency, and they still administer Naloxone, nothing happens. They’re safe.”

On the biggest obstacle to getting Naloxone in schools:

“I would say that there are many preconceived notions. Nobody spends any time to figure out who that person is, and how fentanyl got into their body… Education about the danger of fentanyl is critical.”

On whether there’s a difference in attitudes on Naloxone between rural and urban counties:

“That’s a great question. Mecklenburg County just approved Naloxone in its schools in January. Rural Harnett County just approved it in December, to have it in all schools and on the school buses. You have some counties in eastern North Carolina, which are all rural, they have school policies to have it in the district. Every school in the district has Naloxone. So it’s kind of a crapshoot.”

Read the article and listen to the interview on the WFDD website.

Nearly a year later, a mother waits for closure in son’s death as NC medical examiner’s office faces challenges

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A mother’s been waiting almost a year for closure and answers. Kelley Blas is waiting for the official cause of her son’s death.

On June 21, 2023, Blas lost her son John Steen to an accidental overdose.

“We don’t know what exactly it was that took John, because we don’t have a toxicology report, we don’t have an autopsy, we don’t have a death certificate,” Blas said.

Blas said she never thought she’d be waiting upwards of 11 months to receive the documents. 

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said there are staffing troubles at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME.)

“NCDHHS has ongoing concerns about staff vacancies and high turnover at OCME, which have a negative impact on the system’s ability to maintain high-quality services for North Carolinians,” said NCDHHS.

Read more: Nearly a year later, a mother waits for closure in son’s death as NC medical examiner’s office faces challenges

Blas knows how much closure those reports could bring. She lost her older son David to an intentional overdose in 2017 after struggles with mental health.  Four months after David’s death, Blas said she received the papers she once again is waiting for.

“I only could open it up just to read the cause of death, which I knew what it was, but I needed, I needed to see it,” Blas said. “And once I saw it, I closed it and locked it up in a box and I haven’t really looked at it since then. But it just gave me a sense of just, okay, this part is done, I don’t have to think of my child being in a morgue.”

DHHS said each case is different, so there is no typical time frame for completing reports. 

Blas said the state medical examiner’s office told her John’s case is complete, but pending pathology review.

OCME has 15 permanent state positions that are vacant, equal to a 20% vacancy rate, according to NCDHHS. NCDHHS said that includes four vacant pathologist positions (out of 13.)

At the same time, the caseload is growing, with a 26% case increase from 2019 to 2023, according to NCDHHS. The department said it is undoubtedly influenced by a 69% rise in suspected overdose deaths.

“A backlog in OCME creates challenges for law enforcement, attorneys, our public health partners and for the families and communities left behind,” said NCDHHS.

Blas emphasizes she’s not the only one waiting for closure, hearing stories of similar or longer waits from other families who lost also lost children to overdoses.

“When you lose someone, that already causes suffering, and then when you have to compound that by extending these waits longer and longer, I just, I’m not sure that others really understand what that’s like,” Blas said.

NCDHHS pointed to several recommendations in Governor Roy Cooper’s proposed budget, including:

  • Support expanded capacity by adding 35 permanent, state-funded positions to the OCME workforce;    
  • Strengthen and support local medical examiners by increasing their payments from $200 to $400 per case and would more adequately cover the cost of their time and mileage to/from a scene;   
  • Ensure local medical examiners are adequately supplied with scene kits, cameras and other necessary equipment to do their job;   
  • Improve communication for families, law enforcement, attorneys and others about the status of a medical examiner case by developing a 24-hour call center and self-service portal to more timely deliver case status information;    
  • Allow OCME to fully staff second and weekend shifts by providing compensation for OCME staff who are assigned non-traditional work hours; and   
  • Increase OCME’s ability to handle more cases though the much-needed expansion/renovation of the OCME location in Raleigh.    

Read the article and watch the video on the CBS17 website.

‘Fentanyl is everywhere.’ Wake schools wants to be ready to treat opioid overdoses.

Wake County schools will now be required to make sure that they’ve got employees who can treat opioid overdoses on campus.

The Wake County school board approved Tuesday a new policy on the emergency use of Naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose when given in time. Every Wake school will be required to have at least three employees who are trained in how to administer Naloxone, which is the generic name for the drug Narcan.

The policy comes as opioid overdoses and addiction have surged nationally.

In 2022, 219 people died from drug overdoses in Wake County, The News & Observer previously reported. Opioids — medicines prescribed for pain like codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone and morphine — were responsible in three-quarters of the deaths.

“Fentanyl is everywhere,” said school board member Wing Ng. “Fentanyl is a crisis. We all have to be aware of the signs and symptoms.”

STOCKING NALOXONE IN SCHOOLS

The policy directs Superintendent Robert Taylor to develop a program to place Naloxone at schools, early learning centers and district administrative offices. There’s currently no money in the budget to purchase Naloxone. The district estimates that it could cost $6,500 to $30,000 to place two Naloxone doses at each school. The board accelerated adoption of the policy to get it in place before a June 5 deadline to apply for funding from the county.

Read the full article on the Raleigh News & Observer website.

New opioid overdose plan approved unanimously for Wake County Public School System

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) — There’s a push to get a life-saving medication in every Wake County school.

Wake County Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a new Naloxone policy.

Last month, Wake County school board members approved a new policy that requires all county schools to keep a supply of Naloxone – also known by its brand name Narcan – and train faculty members on how to use it.

Before the vote, school resource officers already carried Narcan, but not every Wake County school has an SRO. The newly approved plan requires at least three staff members at each school to be trained and able to administer the drug in case of an emergency. However, it fell short of requiring Naloxone to be kept on campus.

According to state health data, Naloxone was used for suspected overdoses 21 times on schools’ ground statewide in 2023.

“If we have a tool that can save a life, particularly one of our student’s lives,” Chris Heagarty, Wake County School board chair, said, “we want to do everything we can to take those steps.”

Under the new plan, each school principal will designate three or more people on their staff as a part of a medical care program. Those designated people will receive initial training and annual training on how to properly store naloxone, as well as how to administer it.

Each school principal will also need to come up with an emergency action plan for the use of naloxone that complies with all state laws.

“There’s definitely been people at my school that do drugs and it would be best if we had something like that on campus. God forbid something happens,” Cary High School student Emily Ranft said.

“I personally think it should be available in every school. Just because you never know. Better safe than sorry,” Dr. Collin Welteroth said.

This policy is personal for some Wake County mothers.

Barb Walsh, back in December, urged the school board to consider requiring Naloxone be put in schools countywide.

Walsh’s daughter Sophia, died nearly three years ago from fentanyl poisoning. She was drinking from a water bottle that had the dangerous opioid mixed into it.

She made it her mission to not only support families like hers but also promote the life-saving medicine Naloxone.

“It doesn’t take an army. It doesn’t take a lobbyist,” Walsh said to ABC11 in April. “It takes a mom who’s lost a child to stand in front of the school board to make this happen. And that’s significant.”

Tuesday’s Wake County school board meeting starts at 1 p.m.

Plan to supply Narcan in schools approved in Wake County for opioid emergencies

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Wake County School board approved a policy to make naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, available in all schools and to train school staff to use it.

The newly-approved policy enables the district to put naloxone in schools across the county and train at least three people in each school to administer it if someone has an emergency that appears to be opioid-related.

Barb Walsh, whose daughter died after accidentally being exposed to fentanyl, came to the meeting with a large picture of her daughter and boxes of naloxone. She pleaded with the board to act quickly.

“Ten people die each day in North Carolina from fentanyl, and it’s in products people don’t know it’s in,” she said. “Kids may not intentionally take it, but they will die and this is how we’re going to save lives.”

She emphasized that it’s important to have naloxone in schools that serve children of all ages.

“We do not know what the environments of the children are, so we don’t know what age somebody will be ingesting fentanyl unintentionally, but the school will be ready.”

Before naloxone can be put in schools, though, the district has to obtain it. The board is looking at funding sources. One potential source of funding is Wake County’s opioid settlement money.

Applications are due by June 5, and the school board noted that deadline during Tuesday’s meeting. Board members decided to waive a second reading of the policy and move forward with approval, as staff said a policy must be in place before the board could apply for funding from the county.

Wake County Schools to consider implementing naloxone emergency use plan

The Wake County School Board is set to consider a proposal that would designate specific people on school campuses to be trained in administering naloxone in the event of an overdose emergency. However, it does not guarantee the availability of naloxone in every school.

Barb Walsh has dedicated her days to fighting the opioid epidemic. She has been steadfast in her pursuit for justice and bringing awareness to fentanyl fatalities and their families.

Walsh said her daughter Sophia died after drinking a water bottle with fentanyl in it. Now, she’s working to get naloxone in every school in the state.

“She could’ve been saved by naloxone, but she wasn’t,” Walsh told WRAL News. “She died instantly.”

Naloxone reverses the effects of opiates. On Tuesday, the Wake County School Board will consider implementing a naloxone emergency use plan.

Right now, school resource officers carry naloxone, but not every Wake County school has one.

“If [SROs] did receive that call to respond, and they were on campus, they will be able to arrive within minutes to be able to administer that Narcan, if needed,” said Sgt. Jeremy Pittman, with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.

Read more: Wake County Schools to consider implementing naloxone emergency use plan

In the proposal, it says principals would designate specific people on campus who would get training to administer it in the event of an emergency.

“Naloxone devices will be stored in secure but unlocked and easily accessible locations. Each school principal shall designate one or more school personnel, as part of the medical care program under G.S. 115C-375.1, to receive initial training and annual retraining from a school nurse or qualified representative of the local health department regarding the storage and emergency use of naloxone devices. The training shall include basic instruction and information on how to administer naloxone. Only such trained personnel are authorized to administer naloxone to persons believed to be having an overdose reaction, “ it reads.

Additionally, the principal would collaborate with “appropriate school personnel” to create an emergency action plan, including a school-wide employee training to recognize the symptoms of an opioid overdose.

However, each school would not be required to have it.

“This policy also does not guarantee availability of naloxone devices at school, and students and parents/guardians should consult with their own physician(s) regarding such medication(s). Nothing in this policy should be construed to require the presence or use of naloxone on school property or at school sponsored events, unless otherwise required by law. The Board cannot and does not guarantee that naloxone or a person trained in its use will be available at any particular school site or school-sponsored event,” the proposal reads.

That’s because the drug comes with a price tag, according to a district spokesperson. The spokesperson said the district is still working to identify funding to get the drug in every school. The current budget does not reflect funding for naloxone in each school. However, it could change.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “Opioid overdose on school grounds increased this school year, with 21 incidents of naloxone use.”

Of the 115 school districts in the state, 22 have a district-wide program supported with local policy and procedure, according to NCDHHS.

“Naloxone in schools is a safety policy,” Walsh said. “We have AEDs in schools; we have EpiPens in schools; we have fire extinguishers in schools. Naloxone is not different.”

Walsh said people also need to change their attitudes.

“Everybody gets judged. That judgment is the person, the victim, is somehow at fault, that they’re less than,” she said. “It is a medical emergency. That person’s life could be saved.”

Additionally, Walsh said implementing naloxone in each school will bring wider awareness to the issue in general.

“You’re also educating about the symptoms of fentanyl,” she said. “They’ll have more tools in their toolbox.”

The board has been supportive of the proposal in previous meetings. A final vote will be required after Tuesday’s meeting.

Read the article and watch the video on the WRAL TV5 News website.

Breaking the silence: Nonprofits gather to raise awareness about fentanyl poisoning

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Non-profits from across the state gathered at Legion Stadium on Sunday to spread awareness about fentanyl poisoning.  

Attendees also had the chance to receive free Narcan—known generically as naloxone—which is a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of fentanyl poisoning. 

Leslie and Duane Locklear lost two of their sons, Matt and Ryan Locklear to fentanyl poisoning in 2022. The couple started the Fight 4 Me Foundation in their sons’ memory. They said one of the biggest challenges with fentanyl education is the negative stigma.  

“A great number of people, for whatever reason, don’t want to talk about it. They just want to stigmatize it and push it to the side, and knowledge is power so we just took that calling upon ourselves to get out there and try to make people aware of how bad that problem really is,” Duane said. 

Barb Walsh of Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina lost her 24-year-old daughter Sophia after she drank from a water bottle laced with the synthetic drug. 

“She grabbed a water bottle out of the refrigerator, the water bottle contained eight nanograms of diluted Fentanyl. She died instantly. No Naloxone in the house. She was left for ten hours before 911 was called,” she said. 

Non-profits from across the state gathered at Legion Stadium on Sunday to spread awareness about fentanyl poisoning.  (Photo: Nate Mauldin/WWAY)
Read more: Breaking the silence: Nonprofits gather to raise awareness about fentanyl poisoning

At the event, rapper 22Jax and Ladydice shot a music video for their song “For Y’all,” which aims to break the stigma surrounding fentanyl education. 

“It’s bigger than everything that’s going on. It became very personal for me when I heard about the 19-month-old that did not wake up from her nap or his nap at the Airbnb, that’s insane. I have a 19-month-old at the house, so it really struck home,” 22Jax explained. 

Forgotten Victims of North Carolina Founder Patricia Drewes lost her daughter Heaven to fentanyl poisoning in 2018, leaving behind her son, Cameron. Drewes’ hope is that more parents like her will educate their children.  

“For God’s sake, educate your children. I had no idea. I wish I had known then what I know now. We have to educate our parents, we have to educate our children.”   

According to the North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, since 2016, more than 15,000 North Carolinians have died from fentanyl poisoning.  

If you would like to know how obtain Narcan in case of a life-threatening emergency, New Hanover County Health and Human Services has a list of where to get Narcan locally for free, with insurance. 

Read the original article on the WWAY TV3 News website.

Local rapper hosts fundraiser and music video shoot for fentanyl awareness

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Rapper 22Jax wants to give a voice to families who have lost loved ones because of fentanyl and spread awareness about the drug.

On Sunday in Legion Stadium, rapper Alexander Whittington, also known as “22Jax,” held a music video shoot and fundraising event for fentanyl awareness.

“The main purpose of this event is to inspire more people to speak up that felt as though they lost their voice or felt that the memory of their loved ones are lost,” said 22Jax.

Families remember their loved ones at fentanyl fundraiser and music video shoot(WECT)
Read more: Local rapper hosts fundraiser and music video shoot for fentanyl awareness

The music video shoot is for 22Jax’s new song “For Y’all” featuring musician LadyDice. The song was released earlier this month, and 40% of the song’s proceeds will go to organizations helping raise fentanyl awareness.

22Jax says it is more than just addiction and overdoses. “The insane thing is, all these things are happening and no one is doing anything, so I decided to use my platform to reach the youth and grab all of these organizations,” said 22Jax.

“It wasn’t until I really got involved with the song that I was really educated. The numbers and the statistics, it’s out of this world. I just feel like people need to know more and I am just trying to forward the education that I have received and try to save some lives,” said LadyDice.

Michiko’s Voice is a non-profit based out of Johnson County and is one of the organizations that will receive proceeds from For Y’all. Kamaya Duff lost her 23-year-old sister Michiko, who died from fentanyl poisoning.

Duff says her sister unknowingly took 29mg of fentanyl.

“When my sister passed we were lost, it took us 15-18 months to get her toxicology back,” said Duff.

Many families in attendance at the music video and fundraiser event say they waited months before finding out the cause of death of their loved ones. They say it’s a healing experience to be around other people who have experienced similar pain.

“There is no stigma, it can happen to anyone, first-time users, non-users, addicts. It can happen to anyone,” said Duff. “It can be any adult or child it happens to the innocent and the non-innocent,” she added.

The event also had free Naloxone and training to help prevent fentanyl poisoning and save lives. 22Jax says he appreciates the community support and hopes to keep spreading fentanyl awareness across the state and country.

“It’s overwhelming, I didn’t think the turnout would be so well,” said 22Jax.

Read the article on the WECT News 6 website.

Man pleads guilty to supplying drugs that led to fentanyl poisoning

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — A person accused of supplying the drugs that led to a man’s death pleaded guilty in court on Friday.

The hearing was a long time coming for the family of Marshall Abbott, who died due to fentanyl poisoning in June 2022. He died one day before his 30th birthday.

Aaron Furr was arrested in connection with Abbott’s death and charged with death by distribution. Police say he supplied the fentanyl that killed Abbott.

In court Friday, Furr pleaded guilty to the charge. He was sentenced to about five and a half to seven and a half years in prison.

His family sighed with relief when Furr was sentenced.

“I’m a mom. I fought for Marshall his whole life and I’ll always fight for him,” Beth Abernathy said.

Abernathy has fond memories of her son.

“He was an amazing father and amazing son, an amazing friend. And this world is a darker place without him,” she said.

Her husband, Matt Abernathy, said losing Marshall changed everything for him.

“It’s a before and an after — Before Marshall and after Marshall — and life is just different,” he said.

The district attorney’s office sent a statement to Channel 9, saying, “it was an honor to advocate for justice for Marshall Abbott and his family.” But Beth Abernathy said justice won’t stop here.

“Marshall’s case will set a precedent for every family that has to go through this,” she said. “We’ve created a roadmap here in Cabarrus County, and we have proven that you can successfully investigate and prosecute these cases. And we will stand by every fentanyl family in our county and across the state to make sure that every fentanyl dealer is punished to the full extent of the law.”

After the plea hearing, Marshall Abbott’s family and other advocates who came to support them met with the district attorney and assistant district attorney. Goetz was in that meeting while the DA thanked the family for fighting so hard and talked about work they will do in the future to fight for other families.

Read the article and watch the video on the WSOC TV9 website.

Local rapper raising awareness about fentanyl overdose deaths

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Promoter Scott Maitland and rapper “22JAX” are taking action through music and community organizations to raise awareness about fentanyl overdose deaths.

This Sunday, May 19, they are organizing a music video shoot and fundraiser at Legion Stadium from noon to 4 p.m. There will be games and activities for families, food trucks and Foz of Z107.5 FM broadcasting live on-site.

40 percent of the revenue made by the song will be donated to fentanyl awareness nonprofits like Fight4Me and FentVic.

Maitland and 22 Jax visited the WECT studio for an interview on Thursday, and you can watch that full interview at the top of this story.

Read the article and watch the video on the WECT6 website.

Parents of overdose victims press lawmakers for better Good Samaritan laws


By Jennifer Fernandez

GREENSBORO — Randy Abbott lost his daughter to a drug overdose in 2015.

No one called for help in time.

Diannee Carden’s son died from a heroin overdose in 2012.

No one called for help in time.

As North Carolina continues to lose more people to overdoses every year — a record 4,339 in 2022 — parents and families are calling for a change in state laws that they say would encourage people to call for help, even if they had used drugs themselves or had supplied the potentially fatal dose.

“We do not support the current approach of tougher criminality in prison for the non drug dealer who participates in an overdose event,” Carden said Wednesday during a news conference on the changing legal landscape of the opioid epidemic. 

Diannee Carden

“We cannot be quiet. We will continue, as family members who have lost someone to overdose, to speak out. We want policies that work to keep people alive with compassion, support and harm reduction,” added Carden, who founded ekiM for Change after her son’s death (the organization’s name honors her son Mike, using his name spelled backwards). The Pitt County-based nonprofit provides a variety of harm reduction services, from clean needles and naloxone to fentanyl test strips and HIV testing. 

Abbott spoke earlier in the week at a news conference in Greensboro to release the results of a new survey from Expand Good Sam NC that showed likely North Carolina voters also want to see changes in the state’s Good Samaritan law.

“In a drug overdose event, voters clearly state that greater emphasis needs to be placed on saving an overdose victim’s life instead of charging someone with a drug offense,” said Abbott, coalition coordinator and a parent advocate.

Good Samaritan law poll

Expand Good Sam NC is a coalition of organizations from across the state proposing key changes to the state’s Good Samaritan law that they say will encourage people to call for assistance without fear of penalty.

The group commissioned a poll of likely voters conducted by phone last month by Strategic Partners Solutions, a Raleigh-based consulting firm. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Among its findings:

  • At least three-quarters of the 600 voters surveyed, from across the political spectrum, agreed that “Saving the life of someone who has overdosed should be more important than catching the person who supplied the drugs.”
  • Over two-thirds of the voters across all demographic subsets agree that a person who calls 911 for assistance in a drug overdose situation should not be charged with possession as long as they are not a drug trafficker.
  • These voters also overwhelmingly agree (75.5 percent) on providing protection to university students who call to report an overdose.
  • Nearly two-thirds (66.2 percent) of the surveyed voters agree that a person should not be charged with “death by distribution” if they called for assistance.

Of the randomly selected people surveyed, close to two in five said they have had a friend or family member die from an overdose, something that was more common for the people from rural areas. 

Mary O’Donnell has long supported expanding the state’s Good Samaritan laws. Her son Sean died in 2017 after passing out while drinking with friends at a quarry near his Chatham County home. Frightened, his friends left him behind. He later fell into the quarry and drowned. 

She encouraged supporters to let lawmakers know they want to see changes in the laws to help prevent more deaths.

Abbott said the changes are needed.

“We’re losing a generation,” he said. “We’re losing lives every day.”

N.C. changes laws

Last year, North Carolina legislators joined a growing list of states that have strengthened “death by distribution” laws. At the same time, the state broadened its Good Samaritan law to grant limited immunity from prosecution for possession of up to one gram of any drug. Previously, only certain drugs such as cocaine and heroin were covered. 

Abbott and Expand Good Sam NC said the changes to the Good Samaritan law don’t go far enough.

And Carden said making distribution laws harsher went too far.

They believe harsher punishments only put more lives at risk because people who fear getting charged for drug use are less likely to help someone who is overdosing.  

Barb Walsh, executive director of Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, isn’t happy with some of the changes to the state’s Good Samaritan law for a different reason: The expansion to all drugs includes fentanyl, which is highly potent and is the leading cause of overdoses in North Carolina. 

Fentanyl is the drug that killed her 24-year-old daughter in 2021 when she unknowingly drank a bottle of water laced with the drug. No one has been charged in her daughter’s death.

Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal.

“I disagree with that policy but went along with it to get the modified law passed,” Walsh said, adding that she thinks possession of illicit drugs as potent as fentanyl that could kill so many people is wrong.

She has been focusing her harm reduction efforts on getting the lifesaving opioid-reversal drug naloxone into the state’s schools. 

Naloxone in schools

Last week, Walsh hosted a Fentanyl Awareness Day in Raleigh at the General Assembly. More than 75 families met with legislators to talk about their concerns and to encourage support for efforts like getting naloxone in schools. 

The next day lawmakers introduced two bills that would appropriate $350,000 from state Opioid Settlement Funds to send naloxone to all of the state’s schools.

However, since school boards make policy decisions on the use of naloxone, Walsh said her organization is working on encouraging school systems to take advantage of the availability of the opioid-reversal drug.

She said Wake County Public Schools is considering a plan to approve having naloxone in all of its schools and may vote on it later this month.

The district, the largest in the state, already allows school resource officers to carry naloxone. The school district’s policy committee is recommending training some staff members in every school on recognizing signs of an opioid emergency and on using naloxone, according to news reports.

Last school year, school nurses, staff or SROs administered naloxone 21 times on school grounds in the state, according to the annual School Health Services Report Brochure. The year before, it was used 14 times.

‘Unrelenting disease’

North Carolina families that shared their stories of loss at the two events this week said they want lawmakers to decriminalize drug possession, increase harm reduction and addiction services, open overdose prevention centers, and provide evidence-based voluntary treatment options.

Recovery was what her daughter strived for, said Caroline Drake, community engagement coordinator for Guilford County Solution to the Opioid Problem

“She was a beautiful, caring, timid, sweet girl who wanted nothing but to love and be loved, to be free of this unrelenting disease,” Drake said of her daughter Kaitlyn, who died in 2020 at age 23. “She tried to outrun it many times, but it always seemed to catch up to her.”

Drake said GCStop was always there for her daughter when she was in active addiction. So it felt natural to her to give back when she was in recovery. She was volunteering up until the week before she relapsed and fatally overdosed.

“The road that brought me here is not one that I would ever have chosen but will continue to travel it in hopes to be able to spare another family from this unending pain,” Drake said. 

She said she also wants to spare another person “who doesn’t deserve to die” because someone is afraid they’ll be punished “for simply doing the right thing — calling for help.”

This article first appeared on North Carolina Health News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Families push NC leaders for naloxone in all schools

Families of people who have died due to fentanyl use urged North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday to do more to prevent other people from feeling their pain.

Fentanyl deaths are on the rise in North Carolina, state data shows:

  • 2,838 people died from fentanyl from January 2023 – October 2023
  • 2,797 people died from fentanyl from January 2022 – October 2023

October 2023 represented the most recent data the North Carolina Department of Health and Human and Human Services could provide.

Theresa Mathewson, whose son Joshua died in August 2022 at the age of 27 from fentanyl poisoning, was among the families visiting North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday.

The group is advocating for North Carolina lawmakers to mandate having a box of naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, in every school in the state. Some people who attended Wednesday’s event said they were confident state leaders will utilize $350,000 of the $350 million in opioid settlement funds that North Carolina received to make it a reality.

Theresa Mathewson said she found her son unresponsive in his bedroom.

“He was getting ready to complete some tasks for a new job,” she said of her late son.

Theresa Mathewson said he son took half of a pill with roughly 14 times the lethal dose of fentanyl in it.

“[It was] enough to kill him and all his closest friends.

“It should be an eye-opener,” said Chelsea Mathewson, who is the sister of Joshua Mathewson.

The Mathewsons have started several grassroots organizations in Harnett County to spread awareness of the dangers of opioid use.

In 2022, more than 4,300 people in North Carolina died from all opioid exposure.

“Part of likes these [events] because I don’t feel alone, but I hate them,” Chelsea Mathewson said. “I absolutely hate them.

“I hate that there’s another mother and father going through it.”

Danielle Erving, whose son died from fentanyl poisoning, also attended Wednesday’s event.

“Nobody deserves this heartbreak because it can happen to anybody,” Erving said.

Jazmine Brown, whose brother died from fentanyl poisoning, echoed Erving’s sentiments.

“Nobody is safe from this, as sad as it is,” Brown said. “That’s the most important thing for people to acknowledge.”

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NC activists, families call on lawmakers to get Narcan in more schools to combat fentanyl crisis

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Families of those impacted by fentanyl in North Carolina joined together at the General Assembly Wednesday to spread awareness on the dangers of the drug.

Duane and Leslie Locklear were just two of the many parents in attendance. They lost both of their sons, Matthew and Ryan, to fentanyl.

“We lost Matthew in February of 2022 right here in Raleigh and nine months later we lost Ryan in Pembroke. Both, again, due to fentanyl poisoning,” said Duane.

Now they’re on a mission to make sure no other parent has to go what they’ve gone through.

Fayetteville mom, Nanielle Ervin, lost her son to the drug as well.

“I didn’t know what fentanyl was,” said Ervin. “Just to find out that your loved one is gone it’s devastating.”

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says in 2021 more than 77% of overdose deaths in the state likely involved fentanyl.

The group said to combat the crisis they want to see more Naloxone, a drug commonly known as Narcan, in schools.

Watch the video and read the article on the CBS17 website.

Families of victims of fentanyl overdoses rally for education, Naloxone in schools

Families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl are meeting with state lawmakers Wednesday morning to talk about the dangers of the drug, what can be done to save lives – and ask lawmakers to do something about this.

Families say there’s a need for more support and public education.

Families of people who have lost somebody to fentanyl will have their photos on display here at the legislative building, so lawmakers can see the faces of people who have died in their community.

When you look at the data, more than 17,000 North Carolinians have died of fentanyl overdoses since 2013.

Several non-profits and advocates are pushing for Naloxone to be in every school in the state. It’s a lifesaving medication that can be administered through nasal spray if an opioid or fentanyl emergency occurs in a classroom.

They’re calling on the general assembly to appropriate $350,000 of an opioid settlement fund that the state controls. They also want lawmakers to provide two boxes or four doses of Naloxone to all public schools.

Barb Walsh is the executive director for Fentanyl Victims Network and is leading the charge.

“I would like to put faces instead of numbers in people’s minds because when they look at somebody who is young and vibrant and now dead, they’re like ‘oh, that could be me, my son, my daughter,'” Walsh said.

Wednesday’s press conference begins at 10 a.m. followed by a meeting with lawmakers.

Read the full article and watch the video clip on the WRAL TV5 website.

Wake County school board approves Naloxone policy

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) — On Tuesday, Wake County school officials took another step toward putting potentially life-saving medicine into public schools — countywide.

Wake County School Board members approved a new policy Tuesday that would require all schools in the county to keep a supply of Naloxone — also known by its brand name Narcan — and train faculty members on how to use it. Families who have been touched by the fentanyl epidemic say that’s a big win.

“The more we say fentanyl out loud without shame, the more people understand that anybody could die,” said Barb Walsh, a Cary mom and founder of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina.

Someone’s going to die because Naloxone wasn’t in school. And is that a risk they want to take?

Barb Walsh, founder of Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina

Barb’s daughter, Sophia, died in August 2021 after drinking from a water bottle that had the dangerous opioid mixed into it. Since then, Barb’s made it her mission to not only support families like hers but also promote life-saving medicine however she can. She founded the Fentanyl Victims Network in August 2022, one year after Sophia died.

“I have a fire extinguisher in my kitchen just in case I have a fire, that’s because I want one,” she said. “Naloxone is the same thing.”

In December, Barb attended a Wake County school board meeting, urging officials to consider requiring Naloxone be put into schools. Now, that’s one step closer to becoming reality, after a new policy was approved — and just needs to be voted on to become official.

“We don’t know where the threat is going to come from. But if we have a tool that can save a life, particularly one of our students’ lives, we want to do everything we can to take those steps,” said board chair Chris Heagarty.

According to state health statistics, Naloxone was used for suspected overdoses 21 times on school grounds statewide last year. Walsh said it’s not worth waiting for more.

“It may not have happened in North Carolina yet. But someone’s going to die because Naloxone wasn’t in school. And is that a risk they want to take?” she said.

Though there’s work to be done — only about 20% of North Carolina’s public school districts have Naloxone policies — the significance of Tuesday’s decision isn’t lost on Walsh.

“It doesn’t take an army. It doesn’t take a lobbyist. It takes a mom who’s lost a child to stand in front of the school board to make this happen. And that’s significant,” she said.

Funding for the new policy is not yet clear. Heagarty said they’ll be targeting possible state and federal funds in addition to county funding out of the superintendent’s budget. The policy will be discussed at a full board meeting in May, and if passed could be in place by next school year.

Read the orignal article and watch the video on the ABC11 News website.

Sounding the alarm on fentanyl: Meet-up in Winston-Salem helps provide support to impacted families

Families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl throughout the state have the opportunity to come together in Winston-Salem Saturday, in an effort to seek support and also raise awareness.

‘We are in the business of saving lives’ | NC leaders seeking solutions to the fentanyl crisis

State and local leaders held a press conference Wednesday to highlight strategies to mitigate the fentanyl epidemic in Mecklenburg County.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, Attorney General Josh Stein and other federal, state, and Charlotte leaders are seeking solutions to the fentanyl crisis.

Sheriff McFadden hosted a press conference Wednesday at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center in order to highlight some of the work done to combat the rise in fentanyl-related deaths.

According to the United States Department of Justice, the number of fentanyl seizures in 2024 represents over 82 million deadly doses.

Around 10 people die in North Carolina every day because of fentanyl, according to Stein. 

During the press conference, leaders discussed efforts by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office to train staff members on administering Narcan. These efforts saved over a dozen lives this past year. 

“People are dying from this drug thinking that they’re taking something simple, but it’s laced with fentanyl,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said.

Also, in November of 2023, the Arrest Processing Center lobby received a Narcan vending machine, which is accessible to anyone. Additionally, Sheriff McFadden installed 39 Narcan alarm boxes that were placed in resident pods.

“Should Narcan be in schools? Absolutely. In every classroom? Absolutely. At every nightclub? Absolutely, why? Because we are in the business of saving lives,” Sheriff McFadden said. 

Continue reading “‘We are in the business of saving lives’ | NC leaders seeking solutions to the fentanyl crisis”

Mother shares story about son’s battle with addiction for millions to see during NCAA Tournament

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —

While millions of people are watching the NCAA Tournament, Forsyth County is hoping their ad about a mother who lost her son to addiction, will spread awareness.

The ad created by Forsyth County Behavioral Health Services starts with mother Stephanie Lynch telling her story about what happened to her 27-year-old son Evan who died in 2020 after battling addiction.

Lynch said Evan was injured on a job and given oxycodone by his doctor. She says he became addicted to the opioids and once he could no longer get the pain pills, he started using heroin.

Lynch said Evan went to rehab several times and struggled. It’s something she says he couldn’t stop.

“Evan hated being addicted to opioids, he hated it. He would tell me, ‘you know, mom, I don’t want to die as a drug addict, I don’t want that to be what people remember me for,'” Lynch said.

On April 11, 2020, Evan died from Fentanyl poisoning.

Although he lost that fight, Lynch said he’s no longer in pain and is at peace now.

Her hope is his story will help others.

“His death maybe was not in vain that, you know, his story can help someone else going through the same thing be able to get help or see that they need help or a family member to see that they need help,” Lynch said.

Now Lynch and her son’s story will be displayed for millions of people to see throughout the month of March during NCAA tournament coverage.

“It’s devastating to lose someone you know to substance abuse. It just destroys your whole family. So if there’s anything I can do to help anyone, I’m always willing to do that,” Lynch said.

Annie Vasquez, a Substance Use Health Educator said the ad was created to show the realities of the opioid epidemic in Forsyth County and everywhere.

“The reality is that it touches every single age group, every single race, gender and zip code,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said in addition to this ad, they have another one airing that’s centered around pills.

Anyone struggling with addiction or knows someone struggling with addiction can reach out to Forsyth County Behavioral Health Services for help.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WXII 12 News website.

NC mom campaigns to put ‘Narcan’ in state schools

Barbara Walsh, founder of Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, has efforts underway to put Fentanyl reversing drug Naxolone or ‘Narcan’ in all state schools.

Barbara Walsh, founder of Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, has efforts underway to put Fentanyl reversing drug Naxolone or ‘Narcan’ in all state schools.

What is Fentanyl?

It’s a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent.

While it is a prescription drug, it also can be made and used illegally.

When used properly, fentanyl treats severe pain like after surgery.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are now the most common type of drugs involved in overdoses in the U.S.

Finding Solutions

Wake County resident, Barbara Walsh’s life changed forever in 2021. Her 24-year-old daughter died from fentanyl poisoning after unknowingly drinking a bottle of water laced with the drug. 

Because of that unfortunate event, Walsh is now leading efforts to get fentanyl out of the hands of minors and put Naloxone on the shelves of schools in North Carolina. 

The Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina or ‘Fent Vic’ for short was created as a grassroot campaign against illicit fentanyl in North Carolina. 

RELATED: 8 pounds of fentanyl-laced meth found on Reidsville man

Walsh’s network speaks and connects with families who have lost loved ones to the fentanyl drug. 

Currently, Walsh is pushing for the opioid reversal medication Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, to be available in every school in our state. Her efforts are across all 100 counties of our state.

“We’re seeing a lot of adolescents experimenting or unknown to them or experiencing fentanyl crisis and their lives could be saved if Naloxone which is the antidote to the fentanyl emergency is administered,” Walsh said. 

Since Walsh’s efforts began in December 2023, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has added naloxone to its first aid kits at every school. Nurses and at least two first responders at each school are to be trained in how to use it.

The Fent Vic organization will be holding a meetup on April 14 in Winston-Salem. For more information, click or tap HERE

Fentanyl Crisis in the Triad

Here in the triad, there are efforts underway.

State and local leaders addressed the opioid and fentanyl crisis alongside local leaders in February.

A combined $89 million dollars is going to fight the crisis in the Triad. $47 million dollars of that federal money is coming to Greensboro and Guilford County. Another $42 million dollars heads to Forsyth County and Winston-Salem.

The money is earmarked to help prosecute drug suppliers, and decrease demand thru recovery services.

Wake County gets $65 million to fight opioid crisis: How to spend the money?

Over the next 18 years, Wake County will receive $65 million to fight the opioid crisis.

Families who lost loved ones to opioids are helping Wake County plan how to spend millions of dollars to prevent more deaths.

According to Wake County, 219 people died from overdoses in the county in 2022, the last full year of recorded data. That’s one person every 40 hours.

Data from the Raleigh Police Department shows 103 of those deaths — nearly half — occurred in Raleigh, making 2022 the city’s most deadly year on record since police began tracking drug overdoses in 2015.

Over the next 18 years, Wake County will receive $65 million as part of a $50 billion nationwide settlement that forces drugmakers and distributors to pay for their part in the opioid epidemic.

On Friday, Wake County leaders asked for the community’s input on how to best use the money.

Wake County’s Opioid Settlement Community met Friday inside the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University. The committee brought together more than 100 people, including families who’ve lost loved ones to the opioid crisis.

Cheryl Stallings, a Wake County commissioner, said the county has already received about $4.85 million.

“This is significant, and this is historical,” Stallings said. “We really want to use these funds wisely, and we think one of the best ways to do that is to plan with as many people as involved as how we want to use those funds moving forward.”

The funds have helped expand treatment for people with opioid use disorder and provided resources for survivors of an overdose.

Now, Wake County must create a plan to spend more settlement funds over the next two years.

“We have these funds that can actually do something in stopping that trend and building an infrastructure of health and well being for our community moving forward,” Stallings said.

Cary resident Barb Walsh said moving forward is how she honors her daughter, Sophia, who died of fentanyl poisoning in 2021.

“She stopped at an acquaintance’s house and grabbed a bottle of water, and in that bottle of water was diluted fentanyl,” Walsh said.

Walsh now runs the nonprofit Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina to help shape the response to the opioid crisis in Wake County.

“These folks are compassionate,” Walsh said. “They’re committed to saving lives, and so am I.”

Walsh said she hopes there can be easier access to the drugs Naloxone or Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

Wake County is currently trying to expand where people can get the life-saving drugs, including working with the Wake County Public School System to make Narcan available on all campuses.

Families of overdose victims join Wake County opioid settlement talks

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Wake County wants the community’s input on how to spend more than $65 million. The county will receive the money over the next 18 years as part of a national opioid settlement.

The county says it wants people directly impacted by the opioid epidemic to help make these decisions, and they hosted a community meeting Friday, bringing together several different groups sharing their stories.

“She died immediately. Naloxone was not administered and 911 was not called,” said Barb Walsh, executive director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of NC.

In August 2021, Walsh’s daughter Sophia was 24, applying to grad school and getting ready to buy a house, but one day, she stopped at an acquaintance’s house.

“She grabbed a water bottle out of the fridge,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the bottle had fentanyl in it, killing her daughter.

“You go into a black hole when your child dies,” Walsh said.

Walsh now runs the Fentanyl Victims Network of NC, which helps support families like hers.

She joined nearly 150 people at Wake County’s community meeting Friday to discuss how the county should spend money from the national opioid settlement.

“This will really help us define how to make these investments over the next two years,” said Alyssa Kitlas, Wake County’s opioid settlement program manager.

Overdose deaths in Wake County have increased since 2019. In 2021, state health records show 240 people died of of an overdose.

“We’d like to slow that trend and really support people with their most immediate needs,” Kitlas said.

The county wants to keep investing in treatment, early intervention and housing support.

Other groups, like the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, also want to make sure people with firsthand experience are part of making decisions.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WRAL News website.

Maryland Death by Distribution Law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly are hearing bills to prohibit the distribution of heroin and fentanyl without lawful authority to do so. Victoria & Scottie’s Law is named in honor of two individuals who died from fentanyl overdoses. The bill would impose up to 20 years of imprisonment on anyone convicted of selling these substances that lead to serious bodily injury or death.

Fentanyl deaths rising among NC children


By Jennifer Fernandez

LEXINGTON — On a recent Saturday, family members gathered in a circle at a church here to share stories of loved ones lost to fentanyl.

“Our whole world is turned upside down,” said Michelle, a Forsyth County mother who lost her 19-year-old son to fentanyl poisoning. She didn’t want to use her full name for this story or go into details about his death, as authorities are still investigating.

She doesn’t think her son knew he had taken fentanyl, which has become more common as drug dealers add it to everything from heroin to fake prescription medications

Just a few grains of the highly potent opioid — about 2 milligrams, an amount that’s barely enough to cover the date on a penny — can be fatal. In 2021, fentanyl was involved in 83 percent of fatal medication or drug overdoses in the state, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“If this can happen to him, this can happen to anybody,” said Michelle, who has made it her mission to help educate other parents about the dangers of fentanyl.

She’s not alone in her fight. 

Barbara Walsh, whose Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina organized the recent Lexington meeting, is pushing for North Carolina to require that the opioid reversal drug naloxone be available in all schools. Her 24-year-old daughter died from fentanyl poisoning in 2021 after unknowingly drinking a bottle of water laced with the drug.

The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force also is looking into the role fentanyl has played in the deaths of not only teens, but young children who likely are getting exposed through trash from illegal substance use left within reach.

“We were floored when we started seeing the deaths of the infants and the toddlers, and that’s really what started our prevention efforts,” said Sandra Bishop-Freeman, the state’s chief toxicologist who works in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The youngest victims

In North Carolina, fentanyl contributed to the deaths of 10 children age 5 or younger in 2022. Just seven years prior, the state recorded only one death in that age group.

For children ages 13 to 17, fentanyl deaths increased from four to 25 in that same time period, according to data shared with Child Fatality Task Force members.

“Having one child or infant death related to fentanyl or other drugs is …, is too much,” Michelle Aurelius, North Carolina’s chief medical examiner, told task force members in November.

During that meeting, Bishop-Freeman read from investigators’ notes about child deaths due to fentanyl poisoning.

The decedent’s mother reported seeing the deceased pick up a baggie and put it in her mouth. 

During the autopsy, a small piece of folded paper was recovered from the baby’s stomach. 

Law enforcement stated there was a plastic bag and loose pills on top of a 4-year-old brother’s bed.

Another report focused on 22 cases in 2021 where a single substance was linked to the child’s death. Pathologists determined that fentanyl was the single substance in 15 of the fatalities. Only one other single substance killed multiple children that year — carbon monoxide, which killed two children. Also that year, fentanyl was one of the substances attributed in six out of seven deaths where pathologists determined more than one substance caused the death.

“These are startling stories to hear. They’re awful stories to hear, but we need to talk about them so we can prevent them,” Aurelius said. “I don’t want to have to do another autopsy on an 8-year-old who … died of (a) fentanyl overdose with (a) fentanyl patch on her skin after she was left alone.”

Counterfeit pills

For older children, fake pills laced with fentanyl are a rising concern.

In 2021, authorities seized 77,000 counterfeit pills in North Carolina alone. Eight in 10 pills contained some fentanyl.

Data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration shows that of the fake pills tested by the agency, seven out of 10 contained potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.

shows four blue pills, two are authentic oxycodone and two are counterfeit pills
Many fake pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®).

The fake pills have become easier to obtain, with sales taking place online and on social media.

Further evidence of the impact of these fake pills comes from a recent study by the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Officials looked at a sample of 75 toxicology reports from deaths between 2020 and 2022 and compared results to what investigators learned about the deaths. 

The study showed that 50.7 percent of those who died thought they were taking Xanax (an anxiety/depression medication), and 54.7 percent thought they were taking a form of oxycodone (a pain reliever). However, the toxicology reports were most often positive for fentanyl with no traceable amounts of the medications the victims thought they were getting.

Last year, the DEA seized more than 79.4 million fentanyl-laced fake pills in the country, according to a tracker on the agency’s homepage. So far this year, more than 19.8 million pills have been seized nationwide, which is on pace to be one and a half times last year’s number.

Finding solutions

Walsh says the opioid reversal medication naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, should be available in every school. It should be treated like any other emergency item that schools stock, like epinephrine pens for allergic reactions or automated external defibrillators to shock a heart back into rhythm.

Some North Carolina school systems are starting to do that.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is adding naloxone to its first aid kits at every school. Nurses and at least two first responders at each school are to be trained in how to use it.

Wake County Schools, which already allows school resource officers to carry naloxone, may soon follow Charlotte’s lead. District officials plan to recommend that naloxone be placed in every school and a policy be created for staff on training and using it, WRAL-TV reported last week.  

Last school year, school nurses, staff or SROs administered naloxone 21 times on school grounds in the state, according to the annual School Health Services Report Brochure. The year before, it was used 14 times. According to the report, 84 school districts last school year reported having the opioid reversal drug available on school grounds through SROs and 22 through a districtwide program.

As of September last year, eight states have passed laws requiring all public high schools to keep naloxone on site in case of overdoses at the school or a school-sponsored event, according to data compiled by the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association.

Late last year, federal officials encouraged educators to add naloxone to every school building in a letter signed by Rahul Gupta, director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Studies show that naloxone access can reduce overdose death rates, that its availability does not lead to increases in youth drug use, and that it causes no harm if used on a person who is not overdosing on opioids,” Gupta and Cardona said in the letter.

They also noted that most states have Good Samaritan Laws that protect bystanders who help someone who is overdosing. North Carolina passed a limited Good Samaritan law in 2013 that permits people who are “acting in good faith” to seek medical help for someone who is overdosing without fear of being prosecuted for possessing small amounts of drugs or drug paraphernalia.

“Our schools are on the frontlines of this epidemic, but our teachers and students can be equipped with tools to save lives,” Gupta and Cardona wrote. 

Limited resources

One of the big frustrations that family members expressed at the Lexington meeting was how long it took for them to learn that fentanyl killed their loved one.

“We didn’t know for six months it was fentanyl,” said Michelle, the Forsyth County mother whose 19-year-old died. “They just said, ‘Your son is gone.’”

The Office of the State Medical Examiner has faced an increasing workload due to the rise in opioid-related deaths while struggling to retain new forensic pathologists who can make tens of thousands of dollars more for doing the same job in neighboring states.

Last year, legislators took steps to address that wage disparity in the budget by adding $2 million in recurring funds for each of the next two fiscal years to help increase the state’s autopsy capacity. 

Lawmakers also added two toxicology positions, however, those jobs were in response to the expected increase in workload due to the new requirement of comprehensive toxicology on all child deaths investigated by a medical examiner. While those new positions will help address that expanded workload, they do not help with the existing work where the department still needs additional positions, the Office of the State Medical Examiner said in an email to NC Health News. The two new jobs have not yet been posted.

One strain on the office is that 45 percent of the workforce is made up of temporary or time-limited employees, “which creates a very unstable workforce,” according to the medical examiner’s office.

The toxicology lab performs more than 36,000 analytical tests each year, performing analysis on 90 percent of medical examiner cases, the office said. On average, the toxicology lab issues reports on about 15,000 cases every year. 

‘Takes your breath away’

That work won’t let up any time soon, as the number of overdose deaths continues at a steady clip in the state.

In January, the medical examiner’s office identified 332 suspected overdose deaths, down from 368 in January 2023. While some will be classified as non-poisoning deaths after further investigation, most will end up being confirmed overdoses, the medical examiner’s office said.

At last week’s meeting of the Child Fatality Task Force, members talked about the difficulty of seeing so many child deaths from overdoses. 

Pediatrician Martin McCaffrey told the task force that the child fatality review committee he is on just reviewed three infant/toddler fentanyl overdoses. Jill Scott, president and CEO of Communities in Schools North Carolina, shared that a 17-year-old had died not too long ago.

“He got a hold of something,” she said. “He didn’t know what it was.”

They are part of a much larger picture of the toll that the opioid crisis has had.

In Arlington, Va., pictures line the walls at the DEA’s offices as a memorial to those who have died from fentanyl. There are so many victims, they ran out of wall space for photos, Michelle, the Forsyth County mom said.

“It kind of takes your breath away,” she said, “when you see face after face after face.”

This article first appeared on North Carolina Health News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article on the NC Health News website.

Heavenly journey: Message in a bottle floats on to France in tribute of woman who died from Fentanyl

Patricia Drewes decided to write the message. She wrote Heaven’s story in a letter, wrapped it in a photo of her and sealed it in a bottle. It was found in France.

When Patricia Drewes dropped a message in a bottle off the Carolina coast, she didn’t expect it to be found halfway around the world – but she hoped it would.

“I wanted anyone who found that bottle to know the story of this beautiful girl who had such a beautiful life and a beautiful heart,” Drewes said.

Her daughter, Heaven Leigh Nelson, died of a Fentanyl poisoning in 2019. She was 24.

“These kids are getting illicit synthetic Fentanyl and they don’t have any clue that’s what they’re getting,” Drewes said. “”(Her) life was stolen from her, from myself, from her family, from her friends by a poisoning.”

Since then, Drewes has been raising awareness about the dangers of the illicit drug while caring for her grandson.

“I am the founder of Forgotten Victims of North Carolina. We have eight chapters across the state,” Drewes said. “We reach out to these families, we support these families and our motto is ‘No one stands alone’. That’s the one thing I remember is being alone and thinking I was the only person in the world that this has happened to. We offer support to these families and we become friends and then we become family.”

Every year, Drewes and her grandson take a beach trip on Jan. 28 – Heaven’s death date.

Continue reading “Heavenly journey: Message in a bottle floats on to France in tribute of woman who died from Fentanyl”

Family navigates grief a year after son’s death

Barry and Lisa Bennett hold a graduation photo of their son, 22-year-old Mason Bennett, who died a year ago Thursday. Olivia Neeley | Times

After a fleeting moment of peace each morning, it doesn’t take long for the gut-wrenching reality to set in for Lisa Bennett.

“When you go to sleep and you wake up … you have this brief second where you think everything is fine and (then) it hits you over and over again, day after day,” she said through tears.

For Bennett, her reality is facing yet another day without her 22-year-old son, Mason Bennett. Thursday marks the first anniversary of his death. Bennett contends he died after taking what he believed was a 30 mg Percocet, a prescription painkiller.

“It wasn’t a Percocet,” Bennett said. “It was a pressed pill, which is mostly what’s being sold now. There was nothing else in it other than cocaine and fentanyl.”

Eight months after Mason’s death, Wilson police charged 21-year-old Claire Brittle in connection with his death. Brittle faces a felony death by distribution charge as well as several drug-related charges.

Police said Brittle was “responsible for selling the victim narcotics at the time of his death,” according to a Wilson Police Department press release. When police arrested Brittle in October, they found various drugs in her home, including “85 dosage units of pressed Percocet pills,” according to arrest warrants.

Brittle was also charged with felony possession of a Schedule II controlled substance. Arrest warrants indicate that charge relates to fentanyl possession.

Continue reading “Family navigates grief a year after son’s death”

‘We’re tired of telling parents that their children are dead due to fentanyl use’ | UCSO works to fight fentanyl crisis

Union County is working to get fentanyl test results back sooner.

MONROE, N.C. — WCNC Charlotte is putting a face to the fentanyl crisis. 

Recent trends show it’s killing people who don’t even know they’re taking it. 

A deadly dose is as small as the size of Abraham Lincoln’s cheek on a penny. 

Now, the Union County Sheriff’s Office is working to crack down on the drug, which is greatly impacting families.

“He just really had a special heart,” Union County resident Linda Hibbets said.

Hibbets, raised her grandson, 18-year-old Brian Terrano. He grew up loving adventures, sports, and anything to do with Gatlinburg. After a trip there, the next morning he was supposed to go to school. 

“I told my husband to help me get him off the bed, and I did CPR, I’m an RN, and I couldn’t save my grandson and that was really hard,” Hibbets said. “I’ve saved others, but I couldn’t save him, he was gone.”   

It’s a story UCSO Lieutenant James Maye has heard too often. 

Continue reading “‘We’re tired of telling parents that their children are dead due to fentanyl use’ | UCSO works to fight fentanyl crisis”

INSIDE LOOK: Union County crime lab’s crucial role in putting criminals behind bars quicker

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County is working to speed up justice with its crime lab and newly accredited FIELDS of evidence, which means faster results while putting criminals behind bars and getting innocent people out.

Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz spoke with forensic chemists, crime scene investigators, and law enforcement officers on Thursday about the work they are doing, which is helping to cut back on the state lab’s backlog.

The digital forensic lab has equipment used to analyze things, such as text messages, which could lead to an arrest.

“It’s key for us to create a timeline of that victim’s last hours and this room does a great job of providing us that,” said Lt. James Maye.

The work in the digital forensic lab can help in cases of fentanyl poisoning to identify drug dealers.

“This evidence is used to determine which source provided the narcotics that ended the life of a victim,” Maye said.

The crime lab’s most recent accreditation was in the fall of 2023, which allowed officials to process fingerprints and blood alcohol testing on-site.

The blood alcohol analysis, which could be crucial in a DWI arrest, starts there where vials are filled and prepped for testing.

“The alcohol that’s in the blood will slowly go into the air above the sample,” said forensic chemist, Dayla Rich.

“So, you test not the blood, but the air that is coming out of it?” Goetz asked.

“Correct,” said Rich.

Running those tests in-house can provide results weeks or even months faster. Other local law enforcement agencies can use the lab too.

“Sheriff (Eddie) Cathey is encouraging everyone to bring us your phones, your blood, anything we can do to get criminals off the street bring it to us we’ll take care of it,” said Lt. Maye.

In the coming months, they’re hoping to be accredited in other fields of evidence analysis, including DNA, blood drug toxicology, and seized drugs.

The lab will not conduct autopsies on-site. That will be the responsibility of the regional medical examiner’s office.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office hopes to eventually do postmortem-blood-drug testing for death by distribution cases.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WSOC TV9 website.

Resource officers are now the only ones to carry Narcan in Wake schools. Can this change?

Three years ago, Sophia Walsh was returning home after a fun weekend with friends river rafting in Boone.

On the drive back, she stopped at an acquaintance’s house to use the bathroom and get something to drink. An innocent act that had deadly consequences.

The water bottle she found in the refrigerator was poisoned with a dissolved fentanyl pill, according to investigators. An autopsy report found Walsh had 8.4 nanograms of fentanyl in her system, enough to kill four people.

Walsh overdosed on the drug. She was 24 years old.

TRAVIS LONG • TLONG@NEWSOBSERVER.COM
Samantha Brawley, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, shows off the NARCAN nasal sprays and Fentanyl test strips that she carries while traveling in and around the Cherokee Indian Reservation where she offers support to people struggling with addiction. Ten percent of the tribe’s members received a substance-abuse diagnosis in 2012, the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority reported in 2017.

Her family and friends remember the Apex High School and Appalachian State graduate as a passionate foodie, chef and nature lover, often photographing animals, plants and flowers.

“This individual did not have naloxone in their home and did not call 911,” said her mother, Barbara, in an interview. “It was not Sophia’s choice to die, and it was not her choice to ingest fentanyl.”

Since her daughter’s death, Barbara Walsh, has been raising awareness about fentanyl emergencies and working to increase the availability of the nasal spray drug naloxone, or Narcan, which reverses a drug overdose in two minutes. Her organization, Fentanyl Victims of North Carolina, highlights the many young people and their families affected by losses like her own.

Some leaders and advocates say the limited access to life-saving medication in schools should be expanded. Beyond school resource officers, advocates say, teachers, staff, school nurses and even students should have access to and be trained to administer the drug in case of an emergency.

“What is happening today is different than what happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. It’s different than when I grew up,” Walsh said. “We were able to experiment and live. Today, that’s not always the case. The stigma some people have about (drugs) is from another era.”

In Wake County, 1,499 people died from drug emergencies from 2013 to 2023, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. Of that number, 867 — or 58% of the deaths — involved fentanyl. Statewide, more than 36,000 people died from drug misuse from 2000-22.

The synthetic opioid created in the 1960s is often prescribed for pain, and studies show it is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Many young people encounter fentanyl when experimenting with marijuana, Adderall, heroin, cocaine or other pills like ecstasy or Xanax.

Continue reading “Resource officers are now the only ones to carry Narcan in Wake schools. Can this change?”

NC State sophomore raises money to provide free Narcan to students

Sophomore Alyssa Price said she lost two friends to overdoses, and now she’s raising funds to provide free Narcan to students.

An NC State student is raising funds to help fight overdoses on campus.

Sophomore Alyssa Price said she lost two friends to overdoses, so she wanted to do something to help save others.

That’s why she is raising funds to provide Narcan – a medicine that reverses opioid overdose – free to students.

The university has increased resources after 14 students deaths, including two fatal overdoses, during the 2022-23 school year.

Price said this is one area where she felt she could do more.

“They created a bunch of preventative measures last year,” Price said. “But we did not have the part that was, ‘What if it happened?'”

She said she’s trying to help students be more prepared – and proactive – in the case of an emergency.

NC State prevention services does provide free Narcan kits to any campus community member – upon request. The university said it has distributed 744 kits throughout the past two years.

Price started a GofundMe to help raise money for her free Narcan initiative.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WRAL website.

‘No person that is safe’: Families continue the fight against fentanyl during victim summit

MONROE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The Fentanyl Victims Network met Saturday morning to continue the fight against the deadly drug taking over the nation.

Families who lost loved ones in the fentanyl poisoning shared their stories and pictures in hopes of uplifting each other.

Debbie Dalton was one of them.

“There is no demographic; there is no person that is safe from this evil that is taking our children,” said Dalton. 

In 2016, she lost her son Hunter to the drug after she said a good friend offered it to him.

“Hunter joked about it, like, ‘I don’t do this. I’m 23.’ He laughed about it. But unbeknownst to Hunter and his good friend, it was cut with fentanyl, and it gave my 6’2″ son a heart attack. He didn’t stand a chance against it. He was so strong that he survived for six days, and I held his hand, but he never regained consciousness,” Dalton said.

In his memory, she started the Hunter Dalton HD Life Foundation. Her mission now is to spare other families from going through the same heartache.

North Carolina is fourth in the nation in fentanyl deaths, but only 10th in population. Between September 2013 and September 2023, over 1600 people died from the drug in Gaston, Mecklenburg, and Union counties.

Continue reading “‘No person that is safe’: Families continue the fight against fentanyl during victim summit”

Two new North Carolina laws change fentanyl fines, concealed carry rules

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Dozens of new laws are now in effect in North Carolina as of Dec 1.

Some deal with stricter fines for drug traffickers, while others deal with election law. WECT News took a closer look at two of them.

Senate Bill 41

Part of Senate Bill 41, introduced by State Senator Danny Britt Jr., is now in effect in North Carolina. The part of the law now in effect allows concealed carry permit holders to bring firearms to places of worship that also have schools.

See WECT web site for remainder of their conent regarding Senate Bill 41.

Senate Bill 189

“An act to increase the fine imposed on persons convicted of trafficking in heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil” will increase the fines for people convicted of drug trafficking who have between 4-14 grams of the substance on them.

The fine increase is from $50,000 to $500,000. That’s a 900% increase.

Barbara Walsh lost her daughter, Sophia, to fentanyl poisoning at just 24 years old. Sophia died after drinking fentanyl from a glass of water, but the family didn’t find that out until months after her death.

Walsh says she hopes the new law with an increased fine will be enough to curb traffickers from selling or distributing the lethal drug.

“I think that is a deterrent for people to think twice about trafficking fentanyl, and maybe it will save somebody’s life,” Walsh said.

While the new law can’t bring back her daughter, she hopes it could save others’ lives in the future.

“We’re paying it forward for unfortunately the eight people who die every day from fentanyl in North Carolina,” Walsh said.

The DEA reports that just one gram of fentanyl can kill 500 people.

Walsh founded the non-profit, Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, after her daughter’s death. She works with families across the state who have lost a loved one to fentanyl and encourages those who want support to join.

Copyright 2023 WECT. All rights reserved.

Overdoses were finally on the decline in NC. The pandemic reignited the crisis.

Fatal overdoses in North Carolina had finally started to decline.

After steadily rising for years, deaths dropped by 7% in 2018, despite the growing prevalence of fentanyl, an opioid even more potent and deadly than heroine.

The state had aggressively invested in fighting the opioid crisis — it expanded access to evidence-based treatment, sent Narcan to at-risk areas and reduced medical dispensing of opioids.

Low overdose numbers in 2019 seemed to confirm the efforts were paying off.

People in the NC Department of Health and Human Services started believing it was possible to meet a goal they had set back in 2016: to cut the expected overdoses in 2024 by 20%.

“There was a lot of hope in those two years before the pandemic,” said Mary Beth Cox, a substance use epidemiologist DHHS.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“Who knows where we would have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened?” Cox said.

INCREASED ISOLATION, DISAPPEARING TREATMENT AND SUPPORT GROUPS

Loneliness and social isolation became more common. It became harder to send Narcan out into the community. Support groups and treatment centers transitioned online.

“You can do group therapy on the phone or in video, but it’s still not true connection,” said Ellen Stroud, who directs addiction and management operations for the state’s opioid response. “And that’s really a huge part of recovery.”

Disturbing data began emerging.

In the first year of the pandemic, fatal overdoses in the state shot up by 40%. In 2021, deaths increased by an additional 22%.

Continue reading “Overdoses were finally on the decline in NC. The pandemic reignited the crisis.”

Families hope new NC law could bring justice for fentanyl deaths

GASTONIA, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — There are a lot of families hurting in North Carolina.  

The state has seen 16,000 killed from fentanyl this year through July alone, according to the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina. 

That’s 16,000 families missing a loved one because of a growing nationwide fentanyl epidemic. Tracy Sauderson-Ross wishes she would have been home back on Sept. 26, 2022, when her 16-year-old daughter, Abi, was dealing with leg pain and Abi’s boyfriend tried to help. 

“He decided to call a buddy of his to get a Percocet,” described Saunderson-Ross. “She took half of the Percocet, it was a bar, and it was 36 nanograms of fentanyl, and she passed away in the middle of the night.” 

Marshall Abbott was out with friends on June 30, 2022, the day before his 30th birthday. A friend he was with bought something. The family still doesn’t know what it was, but they know a loving father didn’t wake up. 

“Marshall had 72 nanograms of fentanyl in his system,” said Elizabeth Abernathy. “He didn’t stand a chance. He was gone before he even crawled into the bed.” 

Continue reading “Families hope new NC law could bring justice for fentanyl deaths”

A double-edged sword: North Carolina expands the fight against fentanyl

Changes to a North Carolina law make it easier to prosecute people who distribute drugs, including fentanyl, if the drug user dies

Overview:

Carolina Public Press interviewed six parents of children who died and the partner of a man who did as well. Fentanyl, a powerful narcotic painkiller, was involved in each death. Often, those close to the victims reported, prosecutors declined to bring charges for death by distribution, saying the evidence was not strong enough.

Under a state law that takes effect next month, anyone who provides certain drugs to a person who dies after taking them may be prosecuted for second-degree murder — whether they received money for the drugs or shared them freely. 

Death by distribution” first became a crime in North Carolina in 2019. Originally, the law applied only to people who got paid for drugs that later proved fatal. In September, legislators expanded the law’s reach to include anyone who provides certain drugs, including fentanyl, when those drugs result in an overdose death.

Carolina Public Press interviewed six parents of children who died and the partner of a man who died as well. Fentanyl, a powerful narcotic painkiller, was involved in each death. Most of the families reported that prosecutors declined to bring charges for death by distribution, saying that the evidence was not strong enough. 

The family members, as well as people who study drug use or work to combat it, are divided over whether the law’s approach is good or bad. Those in favor described death by distribution charges as essential to bring justice in fentanyl death cases. Critics argued that the strategy could unjustly criminalize and disproportionately affect substance users and people of color. 

Continue reading “A double-edged sword: North Carolina expands the fight against fentanyl”

‘Not my kid.’ How $7 pills get Charlotte teens hooked on fentanyl

The last bathroom stall on the left. An afternoon math class. The house across the street. This weekend’s party.

Students sent Debbie Dalton letters after she spoke to them about her son, who died after taking a line of fentanyl-laced cocaine in 2016. If schools let her in, she’s one of the only sources of education North Carolina teens get on fentanyl’s dangers.

Fentanyl is easy for teens to get — and, these days, it’s even harder to escape.

After losing his best friend to the very drugs the two of them would use together, one Charlotte teen shared his winding journey from an innocent swig of liquor to a dependency on $7 pills, posing as Percocets, that circulated through his school.

“I didn’t know who I was,” said 17-year-old Dylan Krebs, remembering the height of his addiction. “I had completely forgotten everything about me.”

Not only could he not help himself then, he says, but his parents and teachers seemed to have no idea. He says students sold illegal painkillers in classrooms and recalls only once a teacher at school warning teens of the dangers of drugs.

“Everything is laced,” officials have long warned, and one fentanyl pill — about 2 milligrams — with the potent opioid is enough to kill a person.

Continue reading “‘Not my kid.’ How $7 pills get Charlotte teens hooked on fentanyl”

Barb Walsh, founder and executive director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina

The fentanyl crisis has taken the lives of more than 13,000 North Carolinians in recent years and it’s currently killing eight North Carolinians a day. The rise in overdose deaths is driven by illegally manufactured fentanyl.

The group Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina recently joined NC Newsline for an extended conversation, in which founder Barb Walsh shared her family’s story, described the organization she leads, and shared some of the policy changes the group is seeking from state leaders.

Editor’s note: This is a rebroadcast of an interview NC Newsline originally aired August 20, 2023.

Listen to the interview and read the original article on the NCNewsline website.

Local mother makes it her mission to spread awareness about illicit fentanyl

Allen Michael “Mikey” Boyd had a “heart of gold” and loved interacting with people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities. He was a “beautiful soul with a free spirit” who loved his younger brothers, spending time with friends and skateboarding, his mother, Allena Hale, shares with groups of people she meets at events that raise awareness about the dangers of illicit fentanyl use. 

Hale, of Pamlico Beach, lost Boyd to fentanyl poisoning on March 31, 2022 when he was just 22 years old. 

Through her work, she hopes to educate people and comfort grieving families who have similar stories of young family members that were kind, smart and funny but met untimely deaths. 

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl is used by medical professionals to treat patients with severe pain, and is used to treat patients with chronic pain who are “physically more tolerant to other opioids.”

When fentanyl is produced illegally, it is dropped on blotter paper, smoked, snorted/sniffed or made into pills that look similar to other opioids, per the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Continue reading “Local mother makes it her mission to spread awareness about illicit fentanyl”

Guilford County Sheriff’s Office discuss fentanyl at town hall

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers held a town hall with several senior staffers Monday night to address concerns about the detention center, crime in the county and staffing concerns in the department.  

Fentanyl took center stage, though.

“That was the day our whole world came crashing down … Since then, it’s been my mission to bring attention and awareness to fentanyl,” said Debbie Peeden, a grandmother who lost her granddaughter to fentanyl poisoning two years ago.  

Continue reading “Guilford County Sheriff’s Office discuss fentanyl at town hall”

Fentanyl family summit allows loved ones to heal and connect

12 hours ago Connor Doherty

CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WWAY) — Since 2013, over 15,000 North Carolinians have died from fentanyl poisoning, with 886 of those deaths occurring in the Cape Fear.

To spread awareness and help families heal, the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina held its 3rd Family Summit of 2023 in Carolina Beach, with the previous 2 having been held in Raleigh and Boone.

More than a dozen families came out for the summit to learn more about what they can do to continue fighting for their loved ones to receive justice.

Additionally, several parents and siblings shared their stories of what happened to their loved ones.

The network’s executive director Barb Walsh lost her daughter Sophia to fentanyl poisoning after she unintentionally drank a contaminated bottle of water.

Walsh said being able to learn more about fentanyl helped her and will also help the families of it’s victims.

“I went down into a black hole like all these families do and it takes a while and some people never come back out,” Walsh said. “But when I did, I knew that I needed to know more about fentanyl, I needed to learn about the laws and many of these families helped get this law passed.”

Walsh was glad to see so many families come to the summit as Sophia’s death is what drove her to join the Fentanyl Victims Network.

“This is very healing, it’s healing for me to be able to help other families.”

Kami Perez lost her daughter after she took a xanax pill given to her that had more than 13 milligrams of fentanyl in it.

While this was Perez’ first summit, she hopes to be able to help other families when they come to future summits.

“I want to be able to be that voice for her and to others who may also be a victim as well, because they don’t have any voices, they can’t have that voice anymore,” Perez said. “So I’m standing in the gap for them to be that advocate, to be able to bring more attention to, I feel like, is an epidemic.”

North Carolina recently passed Senate Bill 189, which strengthens penalties for individuals found guilty of distributing controlled substances which result in a fatal overdose. Two individuals in the Cape Fear have been charged with death by distribution since the bill was passed.

Read full article and watch the video on the WWAYTV3 website.

Father of fentanyl overdose victim brings awareness through digital billboards

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Alex Bradford was about to finish his sophomore year at UNCW when tragedy struck.

At just 19 years old, Alex fell victim to deadly fentanyl poisoning after ingesting fentanyl through drugs he bought from a fellow classmate. He passed away in March of 2022.

“Alex suffered the same pressures as many college students do with mental health, and unknowingly ingested illicit fentanyl because he chose to self-medicate,” Jeremy Bradford, Alex’s father, said.

Now, after months of suffering and grief, Jeremy and Alex’s Mother, Millisa, started 2 Out Rally, a foundation to honor Alex’s legacy and bring awareness to the harmful impacts of fentanyl. The name was inspired by Alex’s love for baseball.

A quote from the 2 Out Rally website says, “2 Out Rally….even in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs, there is still time to RALLY. 1 at bat can change the outcome of the game. 1 moment can change your LIFE. NEVER give up, show love and compassion, it could save a life.”

Now, the Bradfords have partnered with Barb Walsh, founder of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, to include Alex in a series of digital billboards across New Hanover County. Walsh is also personally affected by fentanyl, as her daughter, Sophia, passed away from fentanyl poisoning in 2021.

Together, the team has included Alex’s image and story as part of the 13 victims displayed on the billboards. Walsh says she hopes these billboards will inspire other family members of fentanyl poisoning victims to come forward and seek support. She believes that together, they can rally to end the fentanyl epidemic so that no other family has to suffer.

“Those billboards are a public messaging system. They’re a PSA. I want to replicate what the Bradford’s have done because we’re not going to win this if we only work by ourselves,” Walsh said.

But this battle is far from over.

“You’re literally playing Russian roulette if you’re choosing to utilize drugs that you don’t know could be laced with fentanyl. Alex didn’t know,” Bradford said. “It’s really to bring a face to the epidemic, because it doesn’t matter your economic background, your status, how you were raised, your religious belief, fentanyl does not discriminate.”

The locations of the 6 public safety billboards in New Hanover County are:

  • 1. 143 S College Road + Market Street
  • 2. 5216 Oleander Drive + Hawthorne
  • 3. 1328 US 421 + Spencer Farlow Drive
  • 4. US-17 + 7491 Market Street
  • 5. US-17 + Military Cutoff exit
  • 6. US-17S + NC210

If you or someone you know is personally affected by fentanyl, you can visit the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina website for more information and support.

To learn more about Alex’s story, you can visit the 2 Out Rally website.

Copyright 2023 WECT. All rights reserved.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WECT News 6 web site.

Mother of NC State student who died inside her dorm shares her grief: ‘She gave most amazing hugs’

It has been eight months since Fara Eve Barnes has been without her daughter, Skye.

Skye Barnes died inside her dorm at Sullivan Hall on the campus of NC State University on February 11.

“She gave the most amazing hugs. Her hugs were not just a quick release,” said Barnes’ mother. “I miss the things that never happened that we get to have and are blessings in our lives.”

Barnes’ autopsy listed her cause of death as an atrial fibrillation to ibuprofen toxicity.

The ibuprofen overdose, according to Barnes’ mother, was due to the amount of work her computer science major daughter was taking in the spring semester.

“She had communicated how overwhelmed she was with the class load that all day every day was consumed to do homework for these 19 credits that she was guided into taking,” said Barnes. “There had not been an intention. This is the commonality in these stress casualties. You’re not finding this suicide note. Somebody hadn’t made a plan. They’re not thinking about ending their life.”

Barnes told Eyewitness News she could tell something was off with her daughter due to the course load and text messages they had exchanged.

Read the full article and watch the video on the ABC11 News website.

After several UNC-Chapel Hill students died from fentanyl, these students are handing out the antidote

College senior Riley Sullivan often carries a vial of the drug naloxone in his backpack, in a pocket next to his pens and pencils.

He has done this for years, long before he was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Once, while volunteering at a homeless encampment in his home state of Michigan, he used it to save a man’s life.

“He was using drugs with somebody else, and they did not have naloxone,” Sullivan says. “This guy came out screaming, asking if anyone had some. And I did.”

Naloxone is the antidote to an opioid overdose. Sullivan took a syringe of injectable naloxone from the backpack he was carrying, walked into the tent and loaded it with a vial of medicine.

“I injected it through his pants, into the front of his thigh,” Sullivan recalled. Then he performed rescue breathing on the man. “And luckily he made it.”

Today, Sullivan has a $15,000 supply of injectable naloxone in his closet at his off-campus apartment in Chapel Hill. He and two of his classmates have become unexpected distributors of the drug in this college town where several students have recently died from opioids.

The deaths are largely unknown to the campus community, but they were discussed at a recent public meeting of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The university’s director of student wellness Dean Blackburn led the presentation.

“I want to share a shocking statistic with you, that I hope you find shocking. It is for me. In the last 20 months, we have lost three active students and one young alum to fentanyl poisoning,” Blackburn said. “And I use that term specifically; not ‘overdose’ because our students and alum were not using fentanyl.”

“They were using other substances that were laced with fentanyl, and they did not know that. And the result of that poisoning was their death and our loss,” he added.

Read the full article and listen to the interview on the WUNC website.

Bill strengthening penalties for fentanyl distribution signed into law

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Fentanyl overdoses are killing on average ten people every day in North Carolina.

Now, the state is working to reduce drug distribution, specifically fentanyl-related incidents.

Senate Bill 189, Fentanyl Drug Offense and Related Changes, was recently passed by the General Assembly and has been signed into law by Governor Cooper.

The bill strengthens a current law related to the distribution of controlled substances when they result in a person’s death. A controlled substance can be any form of opium or opiate, cocaine, methamphetamine, or any combination of these substances, including fentanyl.

The bill was designed to increase penalties for North Carolina’s Death by Distribution law. If a person dies as a result of a controlled substance, the person who delivered the substance to the victim will be punished as a Class C felony, which results in automatic prison time. More penalties may follow if the person who distributed the controlled substance acts with malice or has a previous conviction for a controlled substance violation.

Proof of sale to the victim is also no longer required to hold a person responsible for killing someone, a distributor could simply give someone the drug to be charged.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WECT News 6 website.

Law change should make it easier to prosecute those who sell deadly drugs

Victims’ families say “death by distribution” laws are a step forward, but they want more prosecutions.

With overdose deaths at all-time highs, North Carolina lawmakers moved this year to make easier to prosecute drug dealers who sell a fatal dose.

Victims’ families say “death by distribution” laws are a step forward, but they want more prosecutions.

Debbie Peeden’s granddaughter, Ashley, overdosed in a Greensboro apartment in 2021.

In the years since, Peeden has been relentless: holding signs in the rain outside the state capitol, showing up at meetings and reaching out to law enforcement, all to try and raise awareness of the threat of fentanyl, and a tool she says prosecutors often fail to use: North Carolina’s death by distribution law.

She saw some success last week when Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a change that makes it easier to link a drug dealer to an overdose death. The law now no longer requires proof that drugs were sold to the victim in the case of a fatal overdose, just that those drugs were supplied by the suspect.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WRAL News website.

Families advocate for more education and legislation to prevent fentanyl-related deaths

According to the CDC, more than 150 people die everyday to opioids, including fentanyl. Over 13,000 NC families have lost a loved one to the deadly illicit drug.

BURLINGTON, N.C. — According to the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, 8 people die each day from fentanyl poisoning. 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, 100x stronger than morphine. 

It can be mixed with illegal drugs, made into pills, and even candies. 

In the eyes of more than 13,000 North Carolina families, fentanyl is a killer. 

“We probably already have surpassed 14,000, that’s enough to fill the Charlotte Knights stadium of dead people,” said Barb Walsh, the Executive Director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina.

Walsh lost her daughter, Sophia, to fentanyl poisoning. 

She hosts events throughout the state to let other families to know, they are not alone.  

“You go into a black hole when your child dies and some people don’t come out. I am there for them. I go to the court dates. I feel lucky enough to get them, hold events like this, so they can meet other people who are going through the same thing,” said Walsh.

Read the full article and watch the news segment on the WFMY News 2 website.

Revised death by distribution law offers relief to victims’ families

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — Advocates and law enforcement in the fight against opioids in North Carolina are calling a new piece of legislation a major victory. On Thursday, Governor Cooper signed a revised version of SB 189 into law, establishing harsher penalties for people who traffic and provide bad drugs.

Under the revised bill, which treats death by distribution as a Class C felony, drug traffickers and people whose drugs result in others dying will face more serious jail time. It also makes charging those people easier, no longer requiring prosecutors to prove a transaction, just that the drugs were “delivered”.

“What this means is the families who worked to help change the law for the better won. And it means that anyone who loses a loved one in the future faces a better chance of justice,” said Barbara Walsh, Executive Director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina.

Walsh lost her daughter, Sophia, to fentanyl in August 2021, and founded the Victims Network to help impacted families get justice — and to advocate for legislation like the revised SB 189.

Read the full article and watch the video on the ABC11 website.

Demonstrators call for more federal help to address fentanyl epidemic

WRAL News coverage of the National Fentanyl Rally held in Washington DC on September 23, 2023.

Hundreds of people from around the country attended the march and rally outside the White House yesterday. It was organized by Lost Voices of Fentanyl.

App State student promotes Narcan accessibility

“Naloxone saves lives!” senior Zoe Lebkuecher typed on each flyer with a Spanish translation under each line along with where students and anyone on campus can find Narcan. 

Lebkuecher’s attendance at a welcome event she found on Engage turned into what is now a passion, spreading Narcan awareness.

Lebkuecher transferred to App State last school year and attended an event hosted by the  Collegiate Recovery Community. Lebkeucher said she has been working with the group ever since because of the community she found.

The university’s Collegiate Recovery Community helps students who are in recovery or wish to be in recovery and provides resources for those who want to support others throughout their recovery journey. The organization holds weekly recovery and community meetings.

Lebkuecher started to find ways to get involved with the Collegiate Recovery Community, which works hand-in-hand with Wellness & Prevention Services on campus.

Read the full article on the App State website.

‘Unacceptable.’ Rise in fentanyl-related deaths has parents, activists sounding alarm in NC

NORTH CAROLINA (WTVD) — As parents and activists raise their voices for action on Fentanyl Awareness Day, new data from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office shows the fentanyl problem is only getting worse in North Carolina.

In fact, there were more fentanyl-related deaths reported in just the first five months of this year compared to all of 2016 and 2017 combined. In the last twelve months in North Carolina, there have been 3,433 reported fentanyl-related deaths.

“We’re losing. we’re losing kids. We’re losing grandbabies. We’re losing sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and it’s unacceptable,” said Barb Walsh, Executive Director of the non-profit Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina.

Walsh lost her daughter, Sophia, to Fentanyl in August of 2021, after she drank a water bottle she didn’t know had fentanyl diluted in it. She said prosecutors’ decision not to press charges was crushing.

“It’s devastating to a family to know who killed your child and not be able to do anything about it,” said Walsh.

Read the full article and watch the video on the ABC11 website.

Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina hosts fentanyl awareness rally in Raleigh

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — As fentanyl awareness and prevention day approaches, many people gathered for a rally at the state capital Sunday.

The rally was to help raise awareness about the innocent teenage victims who have died by unintentionally encountering fentanyl in fake prescription medications like Adderall, Xanax and Percocet.

It was hosted by the group Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, who are pushing for the passage of Senate bills 189 and Senate Bill 250, which would modify the Death by Distribution Law.

According to the group, 13,671 North Carolina residents have been killed by Fentanyl in the past nine years, and eight NC residents die each day by Fentanyl.

Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina is also calling for an increase in salaries and hiring chemists to process toxicology reports and the investigation of drug-related deaths.

Monday will mark National Fentanyl Awareness and Prevention Day.

Read the full article and watch the video on the ABC11 website.

Victims of fentanyl poisonings push for broader jurisdiction of fentanyl laws

A group of activists rallied outside the State Capitol Sunday afternoon to push for tougher punishments for people who illegally distribute fentanyl.

The group is pushing for two bills to pass, Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 250.

If the bills pass, it would broaden who gets criminally prosecuted for distributing fentanyl. As it stands, North Carolina is one of the few states that has a death-by-distribution law.

That law allows district attorneys to prosecute people who sell drugs that lead to an overdose death.

The bills would allow district attorneys to prosecute people for not just selling drugs, but for general distribution, even if there is no money involved.

“They would see the person who killed their son, or daughter, or wife or cousin in the courtroom,” Executive Director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina Barb Walsh said. “And there’s no words for that.”

Walsh and her group have been connecting family members of fentanyl overdose victims with one another to form a support group.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WRAL website.

NC Newsline interview with Barb Walsh

In the list of horrors that a parent might ever experience, losing one’s child because she unknowingly grabbed and drank a bottle of water laced with fentanyl has to be among the worst imaginable. And tragically, that’s what happened to a North Carolina woman named Barb Walsh in 2021 when her daughter Sophia died almost instantly from fentanyl poisoning.

Read the full story and listen to the interview on the NC Newsline website.

Families of loved ones who died from fentanyl poisoning push for justice

CONCORD, N.C. — Families in Cabarrus County are pushing for justice for loved ones who have died from fentanyl.

Beth Abernathy said her son, Marshall Abbott, died due to fentanyl poisoning last year one day before his 30th birthday.

She attended a pretrial hearing Tuesday for Aaron Furr at the Cabarrus County Courthouse. Furr was charged in connection with the death.

Furr is one of five people in Cabarrus County who have been charged with felony death by distribution since the law went into effect in 2019.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WSOCTV9 website.

NC autopsy backlog frustrates families, leaves cases open

NORTH CAROLINA — Some North Carolina families are waiting months, even a year, to find out how their loved one died due to the state’s autopsy backlog.

Lawmakers are trying to address this in several different ways, but it is all tied up in the looming budget right now.

Barbara Walsh is the founder of Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, an organization for families of fentanyl victims. She said fixing the autopsy backlog is critical to getting families closure and justice.

For months, Walsh had no idea what killed her 24-year-old daughter Sofia who had just moved to Charlotte for a new job.

“She died because she drank a water bottle that had diluted fentanyl in it,” Walsh said.

Now, families she’s helping through her organization are waiting even longer, sometimes over a year, for toxicology results as the medical examiner’s office faces a massive backlog in autopsies.

Walsh is vocal about the state budget as some lawmakers have promised to help clear the autopsy backlog.

One of the new proposals would pay pathologists more to try and fill positions at the short-staffed medical examiner’s office, which has seen a 30% increase in cases. Cases involving suspected overdose deaths are up by 58%.

Read the full story and watch the video on the WSOCTV9 website.

Fentanyl deaths impact Rutherford County families

This article appeared in the July 17 print edition of the Rutherford Courier. The text from the article was extracted from a scan of the print article to make it easier to read.

By Scott Carpenter

Bill’s CREEK — Fentanyl is potent opioid drug, considered 50 times more powerful than heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 107,00 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2022. and 2/3 were fentanyl related.

Fentanyl affects every corner of the United States including Rutherford County. A nonprofit group called Forgotten Victims of Fentanyl is working to raise awareness of fentanyl in order to prevent more people deaths. Maria Deckert is spearheading the effort in Rutherford County. The local organization is aligned with other similar groups across North Carolina.

Forgotten Victims of Fentanyl is hosting meeting on Sunday, August 6, from 2-4 p.m. at Bill’s Creek Community Center, 1978 Club House Road, Lake Lure.  This meeting is for families and friends of those who have died from fentanyl overdoses.  And it is for anyone with an interest in learning more about the fentanyl problem.  Deckert said Monday. “We want to Come together, and share our stories.  We want to help saves by informing the public about the dangers of fentanyl.”

For Deckert who lives in Rutherford County, this is personal.  Her son, Robert Deckert, was 33 years old when he died in Florida just over four years ago.  He had struggled with drug abuse for several years but was going through rehabilitation.

“I don’t want to see others die like he did.  I don’t want other families to go through the grief that we are going through,” Deckert said. 

Since 2013. more than 13,600 in North Carolina have been killed by fentanyl.  Statistics indicate there been 84 fentanyl related deaths in Rutherford County over the past nine years.

“This means there are 84 families that are permanently damaged by fentanyl,” Deckert said.

For the same period 57 fentanyl deaths in Cleveland County and 50 fentanyl deaths in McDowell County.

Eckert says fentanyl has killed not only active drug users but people who have accidentally come into contact with the drug.

“Fentanyl does not discriminate,” she said.  “Fentanyl kills babies, toddlers, middle schoolers and high schoolers, college students young adults.”

In order to better combat the fentanyl problem, Eckert says more people need to be made aware of it.

“We want to prevent more fentanyl deaths,” she said.

For more information about the Forgotten Victims of Fentanyl meeting, call 828-291-7951

You can find the original article on the Rutherford Courier website however it requires a subscription to access it.

Teens in rehab; CMS wrestler dead. Parents say fentanyl has breached school.

A boyish light had just seeped back into Laird Ramirez’ eyes.

The end of wrestling season brought more free time. With it, he mixed music, cracked jokes and relaxed. He loved life, and he loved his family. He was 17 and acting like it.

His smile was big, and his heart was beating.

The Hough High School rising junior wore well the unique independence that comes with being a teenager, his mom said.

But on July 1, he needed his parents one last time.

Authorities called Gwyneth Brown and Chris Ramirez to the two-story home in the Stratford Forest neighborhood.

They needed to identify his body — robbed of light and color — at a home in Cornelius, paramedics told them.

The night before he’d come and gone from the home, a friend’s house, a few times. At around 3 a.m., he’d returned for good and was chatting with friends when he abruptly beelined for a bed. He said didn’t feel good, his friends told his parents.

Twelve hours later, friends found him dead.

A fatal dose of fentanyl — from a pill he thought was a Percocet — killed him, his mom says.

Nine days later, police arrested and charged 21-year-old Ehsanullah “Sean” Ayaar with death by distribution, according to the Cornelius Police Department. He’s accused of supplying the drug that killed a juvenile, police said previously. A police statement indicates the death was in the Stratford Forest neighborhood.

Read the full article on the Charlotte Observer website.

‘Something’s gotta be done.’ Grieving father sounds alarm on North Carolina’s fentanyl crisis

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) — Scott Zimmerman and his family in Chapel Hill are devastated.

He’d rather not share the agonizing story of his oldest son’s sudden and shocking death, but he’s doing it.

Zimmerman wants to shed light on a huge problem in North Carolina’s fight against the deadly, illicit drug, fentanyl. It leaves dealers on the streets longer and loved ones waiting for justice.

Read the full article and watch the clip on the ABC11 website.

Eastern Carolina County holds public opioid settlement discussion

By Alyssa Hefner

Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 9:03 PM EDT

BEAUFORT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – Beaufort County will receive a little over $3 million over the next 18 years in the opioid settlement, and Tuesday community members were able to discuss how they want to distribute it.

“When I first found out that my son had passed away from fentanyl, it was the Monday after we had his funeral on Saturday, so before then, I didn’t even know what illicit fentanyl was,” said Beaufort County resident Allena Hale.

The mother of Mikey Boyd, who passed away because of a fentanyl overdose back in March of 2022, was one of the community members to voice her opinion at Tuesday’s Behavioral Health Task Force Collaborative meeting.

“I don’t think there’s one simple solution it’s going to be efforts of parents; it’s going to be efforts of law enforcement, department agencies, EMS – it’s going to be all hands on deck to kind of combat this epidemic,” said Hale.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WITN web site.

Victims’ families fight illicit fentanyl in North Carolina, speak during local event

WATAUGA — The Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina and Forgotten Victims of North Carolina hosted an invitation-only event at App Ski Mtn. on Saturday, June 3, to provide victims’ loved ones the opportunity to share their story and honor their children, siblings and parents lost to illicit fentanyl poisoning.

The Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina Executive Director Barb Walsh lost her 24 year-old daughter Sophia in 2021 to fentanyl poisoning. Sophia, an App State graduate and successful business woman, was visiting someone in Banner Elk and is thought to have unknowingly consumed a drink laced with illicit fentanyl. While the case closed with no charges pursued, Walsh is committed to bringing awareness to the dangers of fentanyl poisoning and advocate for justice for victims and their families.

Loved ones of illicit fentanyl victims Timothy Daniel Cothron, Alex Bradford, Heaven Nelson, Michiko Duff Marshall Abbott and Brianna Culpepper spoke about their experiences. NC Department of Justice Community Partnership and Outreach Coordinator Holly Jones, NC District 93 Rep. Ray Pickett and Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page discussed progress and intended actions related to fighting illicit fentanyl.

Read the full article on the Watauga Democrat website.

Local mom wants to spread awareness of the dangers of fentanyl

By Tessa Bradshaw at the Kernersville News June 1, 2023.

On Monday, 18 billboards went up around the Triad with faces of those the community has lost due tofentanyl poi­soning. One of those faces was Walker­ town local Christian Wilson who died from fentanyl poisoning in 2019. The billboard reads, ‘join us and fight illicit fentanyl.Christian, Forever 19.

Christian’s mother, Crystal Wilson, of Walkertown, has made it her mission to help others who are going through this and to also help bring awareness to the rising issue of fentanyl in the county, state and country.

She explained that the 18 “angels” on the billboards, including her son, are only a fraction of the people that North Caro­lina has lost to fentanyl poisoning.

We say poisoning, not overdose. It is a poisoning because they don’t know what they’re taking.

An overdose is taking too much of a known substance.They don’tknow that this is there, so it’s considered a poisoning.

Crystal Wilson

This article is not available online, to read the full story from the Kernersville News, download the PDF scan of the article.

Burdened after Death: What you should know about North Carolina’s autopsy crisis

A severe autopsy backlog in North Carolina has added to the financial and emotional burdens of grieving families, a Charlotte Observer and News & Observer investigation revealed.

Here are three takeaways from Burdened after Death:

When people in North Carolina die unexpectedly, required medical investigations usually take more than 20 weeks. In nearly 1,400 cases since 2020, they took more than a year.

That crisis heaps more burdens on grieving family members during one of the worst periods of their lives. Some can’t touch funds they are entitled to inherit, leaving their biggest bills unpaid. Many must wait months for the answer to a burning question: Why did their loved one die?

The system is bogged down chiefly because there are too many bodies and too few pathologists and toxicologists to handle the load.

Read the full article on the Raleigh News and Observer web site.

NC’s major autopsy delays impact families, law enforcement

When someone dies unexpectedly in North Carolina, it can take months, or even more than a year, before a required autopsy is completed. The state’s huge delays leave families wondering and in limbo, unable to move on and do crucial things like claim insurance money. That’s according to an investigation by the The Charlotte Observer and News and Observer of Raleigh, which found the delays have grown significantly worse over the past decade.

Joining us now to talk more about it is The Charlotte Observer’s Ames Alexander, one of the reporters who wrote the story.

Read the full article or listen to the interview on the WFAE website.

Look out for these new billboards raising awareness about North Carolina fentanyl deaths

Jeremiah Scales and 18 other faces are in rotation on two Winston-Salem billboards along Business 40.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Illicit fentanyl is a deadly drug. 

According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, there was a 22% increase in Fentanyl deaths in North Carolina in 2021.

Families of 19 of those lives taken too soon were brave enough to put their loved one’s faces on display here in the Triad.  

A roadside tribute to Jeremiah Scales warmed the hearts of his grandmother and mother Andrea Scales.  

“To see his face on the screen with other angels who have lost their lives to such a deadly poison,” Scales said. “His beautiful face is still alive in his home city it means so much.”

Jeremiah and 18 other faces are in rotation on two Winston-Salem billboards along Business 40.

Read the full story on the WFMY website.

NC law that punishes drug dealers not widely used despite increase in overdose deaths

For three years, Logan Overcash and his family waited for answers and waited for justice.

“We’ve got closure, but it’s not the closure that we want,” Overcash said.

Overcash’s brother-in-law Cory Moore went missing in September 2020; five months later police found his body in a wooded area in Sanford.

Overcash remembers Moore as a great guy who was full of funny stories.

“You could pretty much put him in any social environment and he would adapt. You know what I mean? Like, he could he can talk to anyone,” Overcash remembered.

While Overcash said Moore battled some demons throughout his life, he was on the right path before his death.

“It was just kind of one of the things that, you know, we tried to protect him from it as much as we could, and I guess it just found its way back to him,” Overcash said.

An investigation later uncovered that Moore died from an overdose. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office went on to arrest the individual who they believed sold him the drugs with a charge called ‘ death by distribution.

Read the full article on the ABC11 website.

Ashley Whaby Unknowingly Took Fentanyl and Died, So Why Has No One Been Held Accountable, Grandma Asks

Ashley Whaby was found dead the day after a party where she may have unknowingly ingested fentanyl. No one has been charged in her death, and her grandmother, Debbie Peeden, wants answers.

Ashley Whaby was at a party with a few friends one fall night in 2021 when she ingested a drug she believed she had used many times before. But unbeknownst to her, it was laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl, her loved ones say.

Ashley’s death left Debbie Peeden, her grandmother and the woman who raised her, with a life-altering wound and an unbreakable resolve for answers. But thus far, she’s gotten few that have satisfied her, she tells Inside Edition Digital in an in-depth interview. 

Read the full article on the Inside Edition website.

Mother who lost son to fentanyl-related death organizes walk to raise awareness

MOREHEAD CITY — A Morehead City mother who lost her son in December to a fentanyl-related death is turning her grief into action.

Mary Warstler of Morehead City is organizing The Walk for Fentanyl Awareness to fight back against the epidemic that is plaguing the county, state and nation.

“I’m hoping to raise awareness and want to see more education in our schools about this at a younger age,” Warstler said. “I talk to a lot of young people that don’t know what it is, and some have said if they get drugs from their friends, it is safe. But their friends are getting drugs from dealers, and they are not safe. I applaud what’s being done so far by our officials, but more needs to be done.”

She added that she is reaching out to other mothers who have lost children to drug overdoses.

“If I can save one mom from the hell I’m going through and what other moms are going through — if I can save somebody — this will be worth it,” she said.

Read the full article on the CarolinaCoastOnline web site.

Man convicted in fentanyl death of teenager

A Rutherford County man was convicted in the death of his 16-year-old girlfriend, who died of fentanyl poisoning after ingesting a pill he helped her buy. 

Nicholas Ivey, 19, arranged the sale of pills to Abi Saunderson, a sophomore at Kings Mountain High School, on Sept. 25, 2022, District Attorney Travis Page said. Abi’s older sister found her dead in her bed the morning of Sept. 26. The pills, it turned out, contained fentanyl. 

Ivey spoke with police several times, eventually calling a detective in October and confessing to his role in Saunderson’s death. 

Read the full article on the Gaston Gazette website.

Family says guilty plea in daughter’s fentanyl death is a step in the right direction

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A 19-year-old man pleaded guilty in Gaston County to giving his 16-year-old girlfriend a pain pill laced with fentanyl.

Investigators said Abigail Saunderson died in September 2022 from fentanyl poisoning. Now, her family wants others to hear her story and stay away from dangerous drugs.

Saunderson’s mother, Tracy Saunderson-Ross, said Nicholas Gage’s guilty plea Monday was a big win for saving lives. She said the case was critical because more young people like her daughter are losing their lives to fentanyl, and it can be avoided.

Saunderson-Ross showed Channel 9′s Ken Lemon a lock of her daughter’s hair she brought with her to court.

“This is the last thing I will ever touch of my baby girl,” she said.

She said her daughter asked Gage for a prescription pain pill last September. She said Saunderson didn’t know the pill she was taking was laced with fentanyl, and it killed her.

Read the full article and watch the video on the WSOC Tv9 web site.

‘War on drugs’ deja vu: Fentanyl overdoses spur states to seek tougher laws

Randy Abbott seethed with anger after his 24-year-old daughter, Vanessa, died of an overdose at a North Carolina house party eight years ago. His idea of justice was “for everybody to go to jail forever.”

But today, Abbott doesn’t believe that users who share lethal drugsshould be prosecuted for the resulting deaths. In Vanessa’s case, that person was a childhood friend, herself in the throes of addiction. “She lives every day with the fact she lost her best friend,” Abbott said.

His view is part of an emotional debate unfolding in state legislatures across the country, as lawmakers move to crack down on drug crimes in response to growing anger and fearover the toll of a drug crisis killing thousands every month. In North Carolina, one of at least a dozen states this year that haveconsidered tougher drug penalties, the Senate recently passed a measure thatwould expand prosecutors’ ability to bring felony charges againstanyone who gives a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Read the full article on the Washington Post web site (registration may be required).

NC families of fentanyl victims advocate for more state action to fight opioid crisis

RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) — Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved lifesaving medication to combat the opioid crisis.

While families of fentanyl victims in North Carolina are praising the decision, they say there’s more to do on a state level to prevent deaths.

Barb Walsh’s 24-year-old daughter, Sophia, died in 2021 after drinking from what she thought was a typical water bottle, instead it had dissolved fentanyl inside.

Walsh created the Fentanyl Victims Network to connect families impacted in the state.

“Every night I call five families because I want to talk to them,” Walsh said. “To collect these people and let them know that they’re not alone and they need to join us. We are stronger together.”

Read the full article on the CBS17 web site.

CBS17 Coverage of Family Summit

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Dozens of families from across North Carolina and beyond were together in Raleigh on Saturday, remembering loved ones who died from fentanyl poisoning.

“Matthew was my first grandchild, my first grandson, and I always called him my uno because he was my number one,” one woman said to a group at the Family Summit on Illicit Fentanyl Fatalities in North Carolina.

Family members said the names of victims and their forever ages.

“Jesse’s forever age is 26,” one mom said of a son she lost to fentanyl poisoning.

Families were crying together, hugging each other and remembering loved ones.

Read the article and watch the news segment on the CBS17 web site.

WRAL TV5 Coverage of Family Summit

RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 40 families came together Saturday at the Public Safety and Justice Conference at NC State University.

Eight North Carolinians die each day from fentanyl poisoning, and over 13,376 died from fentanyl from 2013 to November 2022.

Barb Walsh, founder and executive director of the Fentanyl Victims Network of North Carolina, lost her daughter 24-year-old daughter, Sophia, to fentanyl poisoning. Now she’s trying to connect others who’ve lost loved ones to fentanyl.

“Other people who lost a child to fentanyl, or loved one, they shouldn’t stand alone,” Walsh said. “I felt like we would all be stronger if we stood together.”

Read the article and watch the video on the WRAL Tv5 web site.

Grandmother becomes an advocate after losing granddaughter to fentanyl overdose

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Debbie Peeden is a grandmother, mother and now activist. 


What You Need To Know

  • Debbie Peeden’s granddaughter Ashley died from fentanyl in 2021
  • A report from the DEA shows that 6 out of 10 fentanyl-laced prescription pills contain a lethal dose of the drug
  • In 2021, according to the CDC, almost 108,000 Americans died from drug poisoning

Peeden said her granddaughter Ashley was hanging out with a friend in 2021 when she died.

“So turns out the cocaine that she thought she had was mainly fentanyl, and she had enough fentanyl all in her system from the toxicology report to have killed several people,” Peeden said.

This is becoming common with young adults. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overdose deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential rose from 547 in 1999 to 23,837 in 2020 and continued to increase to 32,537 deaths in 2021. 

Peeden says she will never be the same since the loss of Ashley. She and her husband had custody of her when she was just 12 months old and raised her.

Read the full article on the Spectrum 1 News web site.

Grandmother applauds schools for bringing awareness to dangers of fentanyl

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and 50 times deadlier than heroin. 

With substance abuse a growing issue in high schools, the PTSA at Northern Guilford is planning a town hall to draw attention to the problem. 

Debbie Peeden lost her granddaughter, Ashley, less than 2 years ago. 

The Northern Guilford graduate faced mental health challenges for many years.

Eventually, a deadly dose of fentanyl would take her life. 

“I tell people, I was her biggest advocate her whole entire life and I will be her biggest advocate in her death. I’m not going to have her death be in vain,” said Peeden. 

Peeden made it her mission to draw more attention to the growing problem of substance abuse. 

Read the complete article on the WFMY News 2 web site.

Triangle families ask for more to protect lives from Fentanyl

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Mitchico Duff described her daughter as kind and loving. Two years ago, Duff said she tragically lost her daughter, 22-year-old Machiko La’deja Duff, from fentanyl.

“I don’t want another mom to feel the way I feel, this is a nightmare, this is torture…” said Duff while attending a fentanyl awareness event Saturday near Downtown Raleigh.

“It took us a year to really find out what happened,” the Johnston County mother added. “We knew it was drugs involved but we didn’t know to the extent of what.”

Read the full story on the WNCN CBS17 web site.

Widow and mother of late MLB pitcher Tyler Skaggs speak out against fentanyl

For the first time on camera, the widow of Tyler Skaggs and his mother are sharing their story of loss after the 2019 death of the Los Angeles Angels pitcher. Skaggs was just 27 years old when he was found dead in his hotel room after taking fentanyl-laced oxycodone on the road with his team.

Over three years after Tyler Skaggs’ death, his wife, Carli Skaggs, and mother, Debbie Hetman, spoke to ABC News about what justice looks like to their family.

Read the full article on the Good Morning America web site.

Anti-fentanyl groups with local ties rally in Washington

Sep. 21—WASHINGTON, D.C. — Patricia Drewes joined anti-fentanyl advocates from across the country Saturday to demand greater effort from the federal government in addressing the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

Drewes co-founded Forgotten Victims of Vance, Granville, Franklin and Warren Counties, which last month held a similar rally in Raleigh.

Read the full article on the Henderson Dispatch web site (subscription required) or on Yahoo News.

WCNC Charlotte story on James D’Alo

Faced with an uncontrollable number of drug overdose deaths, North Carolina leaders passed a bi-partisan law meant to hold drug dealers accountable, but a WCNC Charlotte investigation found police rarely arrested suspects for the newly created charge of death by distribution in the first two years of its existence.

The felony, when charged as “aggravated,” holds a sentence of up to 40 years in prison, but court records reveal few drug dealers across the state actually face the crime.

Izzy D’Alo is still waiting for justice a year after her father’s fatal overdose. James D’Alo died on Jan. 18, 2021, in Stallings, North Carolina — a southeastern suburb of Charlotte. The medical examiner ruled the 50-year-old’s death accidental and suspected fentanyl as the source.

“I had a feeling my dad was just going to be viewed as another drug addict and he wasn’t,” his daughter said. “Since he died, I’ve learned a lot about him and his struggles and what drove him to that path and it’s really sad.”

Izzy D’Alo

FULL STORY: https://www.wcnc.com/article/news/cri…

WCNC (Charlotte) Story from February 15, 2022

Nurse creates fentanyl task force following daughter’s tragic death

Debbie Krueger’s interview on WLOS ABC13 in Asheville

BUNCOMBE COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — A local mom is facing an unimaginable loss head on, in hopes of saving others.

“One pill can kill” Nurse creates fentanyl task force following daughter’s tragic death

August 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day, when families come together to remember and honor those who have died from addiction.

It’s a day to remember people like 26-year-old Alexandra.

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