Children and teens are dying of fentanyl overdoses at a faster rate than anyone else in Georgia as of 2019, according to a report by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Channel 2’s Matt Johnson learned that fentanyl deaths among teens ages 10 to 19 increased 800 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to the Teen Overdose Deaths report.
There were 4 deaths in 2019 and 36 were reported in 2021. The majority of deaths were among teens aged 15 to 19, with 42 total drug overdose deaths among teens in that age range last year.
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“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Betsy Wright, who lost her daughter to fentanyl.
Wright’s daughter, 24-year-old Shelby Hensley, died in 2018 after Gwinnett County prosecutors say a dealer laced drugs with fentanyl and didn’t tell her.
“She was so lively and full of energy,” her mother said.
Hensley was a recovering addict who relapsed and thought she was buying heroin, prosecutors say, but instead was sold a fatal dose of fentanyl. Her body was tolerant to heroin, but not fentanyl.
“We have to fight and raise awareness, with the kids,” Wright said.
Wright is part of a group of mothers through Drug Induced Homicide who have lost children to fentanyl. He says he has noted how the children who die are getting younger and younger.
“Mothers in our group show us pictures of 11- and 12-year-olds,” she said.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson is tackling the issue by going after the deputies.
“We will not stand back and allow you to do this,” he said. “You leave a hole in a family when that happens.”
On Monday, the Austin-Gaston office secured the second conviction of a drug dealer for an overdose death in the county’s history.
Dustin Buzzle pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the day his trial was set to begin after Gwinnett prosecutors had charged him with felony murder. He’s the one who prosecutors said fentanyl-laced heroin to Hensley in 2018.
Bazzle was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with 30 years to be served.
“We don’t want our children to die like this,” Austin-Gatson said.
In Gwinnett County, nearly 100 people have died from overdoses so far this year, and prosecutors say they’re seeing children affected, too.
“We have cases of kids who have overdosed even in school,” said Brandon Delfun, Deputy Assistant District Attorney. “They take a pill or something with them or they take it to schools and they overdose.”
In July, Gwinnett County police reported 41 overdoses over an 18-day period.
To help combat the increase in deaths, Navigate Recovery Gwinnett provides free Narcan and Narcan training as well as free fentanyl test strips to the community.
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For Betsy Wright, she hopes more parents learn about the dangers of opioids before it’s too late.
“If you don’t get involved,” he said, “you might not know.”
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