BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – The Kern County Coroner’s office has released numbers on fentanyl deaths for the first half of 2022. Fatal overdoses here in Kern – attributed in whole or in part to the deadly synthetic opioid – totaled 83.

That puts us on track for 166 fentanyl deaths by year’s end.

As heartbreaking as that number might seem, 166 would represent a substantial improvement from the previous year’s total of 232 fentanyl deaths. That would be a 28% decrease.

It’s hard to say what has slowed the pace of fentanyl’s toll, but this is one possible answer – a billboard campaign undertaken by the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern Behavioral Health – some featuring the opioid overdose antidote Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray, and some featuring local people who lost their lives to fentanyl – a drug 50 times more potent than heroin.

One of the individuals featured on billboards around Bakersfield is Heather Butterworth, who died of a fentanyl overdose in May 2021.

Her parents, Keir and Brian Butterworth, have placed their daughter’s tragic story at the center of their mission to get the word out about this killer.

Brian Butterworth stopped by the 17 newsroom to talk about the billboard campaign and the progress we could be seeing thanks to outreach efforts.

“That is better news that the numbers are declining, so amen to that,” Brian Butterworth said. “I think just with continued outreach and group and grassroots and whatnot, getting the message out there that we can continue to make those numbers fall.

“… Every opportunity I get I talk about Heather. That has been therapeutic. … That’s what I would suggest to anyone who has lost anybody. To talk about them. That has helped a lot. Incredible how much that has helped.”

Brian Butterworth says he hopes to get his message about the dangers of fentanyl  into Kern County schools this fall. And a side note from Brian: If you know someone who lost a loved one to a drug overdose – don’t be shy about reaching out to them.  It helps the healing. 

For more on the fentanyl pandemic, visit our website, KGET.com/fentanyl.