GWINNETT County, Ga. (CBS46 ) -- A Gwinnett County family has been devastated by the loss of a bright, funny teenager.
Authorities say 17-year-old Clara Butler died last month from a drug overdose. Her parents say fentanyl is to blame, a synthetic opioid they never imagined would enter their home, much less turn their world upside down.
“I never want another parent to feel what we’re feeling now,” said Andrew Butler.
Andrew and his wife Dionne are agonized by the sudden, unexpected loss of their daughter Clara. The family is clinging to memories made the day before she passed.
“This was the last photo I took of her that night, Andrew said, showing reporter Ashley Thompson a photo. “And we were at her brother’s art exhibit.”
“She wanted to wear her prom dress,” Dionne added. “She wanted to try it out before she went to prom.”
The family was remembering the good times ahead of the following morning, when their lives would forever change.
“I heard my wife knock on her door,” said Andrew. “And as she knocked on her door, I heard her say, ‘Clara you need to get up,’ and she knocked on the door one more time and then she opened it.
On April 21, the Collins Hill High School senior died from a fentanyl overdose. Dionne initially questioned whether her daughter took her life. The family ruled it out.
“She couldn’t have done this herself,” she said. “And she, I don’t think would have committed suicide.”
“She knew how we felt about it and she loved life too much,” Andrew explained.
Andrew and Dionne said their daughter, like many teenagers, admitted to experimenting with recreational drugs, struggling to fit in, but never fentanyl. Detectives had to explain to the family what the drug was.
“It never occurred to me that it would be this fentanyl,” Dionne said.
“When they told me in the last four days that six people had od’d on fentanyl, I was like why is nobody talking about this?” So, Andrew took to Facebook and wrote a transparent post about what killed his daughter. He believes Clara accidentally overdosed on fentanyl, thinking it was another prescription pill. Her parents believe she bought it from someone on social media.
“We’re suddenly starting to see a new influx of pills being pressed that are fentanyl,” said Corporal Ryan Winderweedle with Gwinnett County police. He said it’s a disturbing, deadly trend - fentanyl masquerading as Percocet or other drugs.
“They may think they’re taking a Percocet and it’s being mixed with fentanyl or straight fentanyl,” he explained. “It’ll have the same shape. It’ll have the same numbers and logo stamped into it. “
Just a few week ago, the state department of public health sent a letter to healthcare providers to warn them of fentanyl pills falsely being sold as Percocet or Xanax. There were nearly 140 overdoses in three months according to the release. The cases are mostly in South Georgia, but the issue is becoming widespread.
“As a DEA agent with lots of experience, I’m ringing the warning bell that this is a serious issue…that one try can be a fatal try,” said Special Agent Chuvalo Truesdell.
He said when pills are tested for analysis in their lab, one in four has enough fentanyl to be lethal.
“It’s 50 times more potent than heroine and 80-to-100 times more powerful than morphine,” he explained. “People who are mixing these drugs, they have no degree in chemistry. They’re mixing to make money.” The Butlers are now using their grief for good, telling both parents and teens about the dangers of fentanyl. “How could I not do this?” asked Andrew. “How could I stand by and let something like this happen to somebody else? It’s not going to bring her back, but I think in a way, it’ll help her live.”