Heather Butterworth: Not just another fentanyl overdose

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Overdose deaths from the highly potent, highly addictive synthetic opioid fentanyl are on the rise — the rapid rise — both in Kern County and across the country. 

More than 120 people died from fentanyl-associated overdoses last year locally, and already the number is up to 61 confirmed in 2021.

So, what does an overdosing drug addict look like? What does a drug addict’s family look like? Surely not like Brian and Kier Butterworth and their daughters Heather, 30, Brenna, 25, and Emmie, 19. Three girls, four dogs, a new granddaughter … lives teaming with fulfillment and hope. And now …  one tragedy. 

On May 21, Heather overdosed on fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, for which it’s often substituted, usually without the user’s knowledge. With deadly results. Fentanyl killed at least 81,000 Americans last year, including two or three a week in Kern County. 

Heather’s parents are determined to use her life and death as a platform to save others.

“Our goal was — and this was obviously a God thing that this opened a door — our passion has been to help,” Kier Butterworth said. “When they’re sober, we’ve wanted them to bring their friends over to our home and know that their lives matter and know about addiction — whatever age they are.

“So when this happens, it needs to be shared. People need to stop saying, ‘Oh it won’t happen to my family.'”

There’s a blank spot among the dry erase listings of residents at Third Tradition, a central Bakersfield sober living facility. They’ve erased Heather Butterworth’s name — to make way for the new tenant who will come along soon enough. Heather lived here for weeks before she was discovered in the locked bathroom of her apartment.

Third Tradition Chief Executive Officer Marc Smith, himself a recovered addict, worked with Heather on and off for years. He saw the ups, the downs, the in betweens and the promise. Heather was showing dramatic improvement, he says, and her death demonstrates just how quickly things can change.

“She had an infectious smile,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and her will from when I first started her to be something — I mean, to be something more — was there. She always had a want to be something more.”

They might have erased her name from the dry-erase board of current residents, but nobody has erased Heather Butterworth from their hearts. Won’t. Can’t.

The success stories greatly outnumber the fatal overdoses but even with some of those overdoses — as with Heather — we can learn something.

Look for KGET’s five part series starting Monday on this deadly epidemic sweeping America — Fentanyl: The Counterfeit Killer. The series is supplemented with more coverage on our website. It’ll include a list of resources for families — and addicts themselves struggling to break free of this killer.

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