Fentanyl pills causing deadly overdoses in Gwinnett

Lawrenceville teen died from overdose of drug disguised to look like a prescription pill

Gwinnett narcotics officers are reporting a deadly wave of overdoses caused by drug dealers pressing a dangerous synthetic opioid into what appears to be prescription pills.

Gwinnett County Police Department has reported an uptick in pills laced with fentanyl, resulting in three to four overdose calls per week over the last few months. Half of the calls come from overdose victims, while the other half come from those who find the victims, said Police Officer Hideshi Valle.

Fentanyl, used as a strong pain reliever, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. When illegally made, the highly addictive drug can be used as cheap filler with other drugs. Pure fentanyl can also be pressed into a pill form and disguised to look like prescription medicine, leading buyers to believe what they’re taking is safe.

Clara Butler, a 17-year-old from Lawrenceville, overdosed April 21 and died from a pill she thought was a Percocet but turned out to be pure fentanyl. Butler’s parents, Andrew and Dionne, found her in bed the next morning while waking her up for school.

The Butlers said investigators found that their daughter looked up overdose symptoms on her phone at 2 a.m. and texted the person who sold her the pill to ask what was in it. She also texted her friend that night, who urged Butler to no avail to tell her parents that she felt unwell.

“She was not an addict,” Andrew Butler said. “She was a teenager who tried something, and when she tried something, it cost her her life.”

The Butlers said their daughter was an independent, yet compassionate teenager who “always wanted to help people.” Now, they’re urging other parents to speak to their children about the dangers of buying drugs on the street, because it’s hard to know what’s in them.

Phony pills made from fentanyl fall apart easily and may leave a residue on hands, Valle said. Police officers at other agencies have themselves overdosed simply from fentanyl coming in contact with their skin, she said.

Symptoms leading up to a fentanyl overdose can vary depending on how it’s consumed, Valle said. A user may experience shortness of breath or a decrease in heart rate before dying, she said.

Police officers have responded to overdoses caused by heroin cut with fentanyl for years, said Gwinnett police Cpl. Ryan Winderweedle.

Police officers have carried Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, for years to revive those who have overdosed. Narcotics officers are showing up to every overdose scene, gathering information to help investigate and nab dealers.

“As with every drug, even if (officers) made a charge on a local dealer, there’s probably someone above them and someone above them,” Winderweedle said. “It’s one of those things where the rabbit hole just keeps going.”