GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Children and teenagers are dying from fentanyl overdoses at a faster rate than anyone in Georgia since 2019, according to a report from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Channel 2′s Matt Johnson learned that fentanyl deaths among adolescents aged 10 to 19 increased 800% from 2019 to 2021, according to the Overdose Deaths Among Adolescents report.
In 2019, there were 4 deaths and in 2021 there were 36 reported. The majority of deaths were among 15- to 19-year-old teens, 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 just 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 she was sold a deadly dose of fentanyl. Her body had a tolerance for heroin, but not for fentanyl.
“We’ve got to fight and raise awareness, with the kids,” said Wright.
Wright is part of a group of mothers through the organization Drug Induced Homicide who have lost kids to fentanyl. She says she’s noted how the kids who are dying are getting younger and younger.
“The mothers in our group are showing pictures of kids as young as 11 and 12 years old,” she said.
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Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson is tackling the issue by going after the dealers.
“We will not sit back and allow you do this,” she said. “You’re leaving a hole in a family when this happens.”
On Monday, Austin-Gaston’s office secured the second conviction of a drug dealer for someone’s overdose death in the county’s history.
Dustin Bazzle pled guilty to manslaughter on the day his trial was set to begin after Gwinnett prosecutors had charged him with felony murder. He is the one prosecutors say the fentanyl-laced heroin to Hensley back in 2018.
Bazzle was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with 30 years to serve.
“We don’t want our kids dying like this,” said Austin-Gatson.
In Gwinnett County, nearly 100 people have died from overdoses so far this year, and prosecutors say they are seeing kids affected too.
“We have instances of kids overdosing even in school,” said Brandon Delfunt, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney. “They are taking a pill or something with them or getting it in schools and taking it an overdosing.”
In July, Gwinnett County Police reported 41 overdoses over an 18-day period.
To help combat the rise in deaths, Navigate Recovery Gwinnett has been providing free Narcan and Narcan training as well as free fentanyl testing strips to the community.
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For Betsy Wright, she’s hopeful more parents learn about opioid dangers before it’s too late.
“If you don’t get involved,” she said, “you may not know.”
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