Houston parents warning others after their 18-year-old girl dies with fentanyl in her system

A Houston family is grieving the death of their 18-year-old girl after she suddenly died from taking one pill believed to of been laced with fentanyl.

"This insidious thing is killing so many people, but they don’t even know it’s out there," said Nancy Fowler. "It’s like this monster that you can’t see, smell, or feel, but it’s waiting to kill you."

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Nancy and her husband Loren say they had heard of fentanyl prior to their daughter’s death, but never imagined it would impact their lives. Nor, were they aware of how frequently fentanyl related-deaths occur in the Houston area.

"This is something that never even cross my mind," said Nancy Fowler. "I knew it was a thing. I knew it was in the Midwest. I thought it was mostly for heroin and cocaine, and things I never thought would be an issue in our house."

The tight-knit family lives in Houston’s Heights area. Nancy and Loren’s oldest daughter, Kate, was a straight A student with aspirations of working in the medical field or becoming a doctor. In December, she was a freshman in college.

"On December 23, I think we were all out here watching TV," said Nancy. "Kate comes out and says goodnight."

That was the last conversation they had with Kate. On Christmas Eve morning, the fun-loving and smart 18-year-old was found unresponsive in her bedroom. Preliminary toxicology reports given to the family suggests fentanyl was in her system.

"I went in [her bedroom]," said Nancy. "She was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed in front of her just folded over. I yelled her name and nothing."

Paramedics rushed to the home, but it was too late. The 18-year-old died Christmas Eve morning.

"There’s a very good chance this is the first time she tried it, and she paid with her life," said Nancy. "She made a mistake, and she paid with her life."

"We see people in communities far away from the border that die from exposure to these substances," said Chief Border Patrol Agent Jason Owens from U.S. Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector. "Much of that is coming in crossing our borders."

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Experts believe most fentanyl in the United States is smuggled in by cartel members across the country’s southern border. Using diversion tactics, smugglers have large groups of illegal migrants cross the border at one location.  Then, while law enforcement is busy there, illegal drugs come across somewhere else and eventually transported to cities across the country.

According to data from the CDC, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18-45.  Last year, more than 100,000 Americans died from overdosing on drugs. Many of those deaths, attributed to fentanyl.

"When we don’t have that accountability of people coming in at a designated point of entry, that’s when we start to see dangerous narcotics, like fentanyl, even into the interior in places like Houston," said Owens.

So far this year, FOX 26 Houston has reported on at least three major drug busts in the Houston area relating to fentanyl. In one of those busts, four people were arrested from a business that claims to rent slingshot cars. Among other drugs, guns, and stolen vehicles seized by police at the business, authorities located more than two pounds of counterfeit Adderall pills laced with suspected fentanyl, and 17 pounds of chemicals used to make fentanyl.

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"So apparently where the slingshots were, cause we track Kate’s phone, that’s where she picked up the pill that day, was right next to slingshot," said Loren Fowler. "I don’t know if there’s any correlation, but it was right up [in that area of Houston]."

"[Drug dealers are] putting fentanyl and meth into pills with the intention of getting that into the community," said Lt. Craig Cummings from Texas Department of Public Safety in a recent interview. "Someone may have no idea what they’re taking is not a pill from a friend, but a pill that contains a deadly dose of fentanyl."

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Nancy and Loren believe their daughter Kate bought the pill, thinking it was Percocet, from a drug dealer on social media. Authorities say fentanyl is often times mixed in pills by drug dealers trying to make extra money, and it doesn’t take much to be deadly.

"I don’t know if anyone is aware how bad fentanyl has become," said Loren. "We weren’t aware at all the fact that one pill, one mad scientists mixing whatever to make more money, [could be deadly]."

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a single pound of fentanyl contains more than 1 million fatal doses.

"She picked up some something for the holidays with friends, a pill," said Loren. "We hadn’t seen any history of anything [for her] worse than weed. One pill killed her."

Texas lawmakers are now trying to pass a bill that would classify fentanyl overdose deaths as poisonings. If passed, fentanyl drug dealers could be charged with murder.

In addition, the Fowlers are working with Texas lawmakers in support of a bill that would legalize fentanyl-testing strips. Currently, fentanyl testing strips are illegal in Texas and considered drug paraphernalia. The strips help determine if fentanyl is mixed into a substance before being ingested.

Loren and Nancy hope to spread awareness about the dangers associated with fentanyl to save other families from experiencing the same pain they’ve been going through.

"I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than moms who have lost their kids," said Nancy. "No parent, no parent should have to talk about their child in the past tense."