‘She wouldn’t be gone’: Overdose victim’s mom says controversial test strip could have saved her

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — United States Drug Administration officials say reducing fentanyl overdoses has become their top priority in communities all across the country.

It’s a growing problem that’s also taken lives in Florida.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of deaths last year involved fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.

After losing her young daughter to the synthetic opioid, one local mother is taking steps  to make sure the dangerous drug doesn’t take any more lives.

“We regret to inform you that your daughter has passed away in an apparent overdose of fentanyl,” Joy Kittrell recalled being told the day her daughter died. “I dropped to my knees.”

Kittrell’s daughter, Amber Bardwell, was just 19 years old when she died in a Central Florida motel.

Kittrell says Amber didn’t know what she was taking that night.

She describes Amber as an amazing person who went down the wrong path.

“She was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when she was 11,” Kittrell said.

Amber’s mother says her condition made her vulnerable to manipulation and she soon fell in with the crowd in high school.

“She hooked up with some pretty rough people,” Kittrell said.

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However, she says Amber didn’t have a problem with drugs, especially not fentanyl.

Investigators eventually confirmed for Kittrell that Amber didn’t know she was taking fentanyl that night.

“She was actually under the impression that it was cocaine and it was not,” Kittrell said. “There was no cocaine in her system.”

However, Kittrell says when the autopsy report came back, she had extremely high levels of fentanyl in her system. According to the DEA, Amber’s story is not unique.

The cheap, easily laced drug was linked to nearly 108,000 overdose deaths nationwide last year.

Like the DEA, Kittrell says doing something about the problem is now her top priority too.

“There are testing strips where you can dip it in either a liquid substance or a powdery substance, anything really, you can test it for fentanyl,” Kittrell said. “That could save hundreds of lives.”

Those testing strips are banned in many states and are classified as “drug paraphernalia.”

However, some states like Rhode Island, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Arizona and most recently Pennsylvania- have taken measures to reverse those laws.

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“If that was legal in our area and my daughter had that, or the people around her had that, it could have easily been tested,” Kittrell said. “My daughter wouldn’t be gone.”

Authorities have not said whether the person who gave Amber the fentanyl that killed her will face charges.

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