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.


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


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.