LAS VEGAS (KLAS)– Deaths from the synthetic drug fentanyl have more than quadrupled in Clark County over the past few years, the I-Team learned.

Christiana Kuerner thought she was buying the painkiller Percocet. Instead, a drug dealer sold her fake pills with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

At just 25-years-old, Kuerner died of a drug overdose. Her mother, Yvonne, spoke with the I-Team.

“My daughter made a bad decision.  My daughter is not what she died of,” Yvonne Kuerner said. “She was tall, she was gorgeous, and she was hilarious, and everybody loved her.”

Christiana passed away in 2017. Over the next few years, fentanyl-related deaths in Clark County skyrocketed.

“We’ve seen a significant increase,” said Melanie Rouse, Clark County Coroner. “I think you have a great portion of those cases where it is either hidden as another substance or it is being put into substances that they may take on a regular basis but it is being sort of as an additive to that so I think there is a fair number of those cases where people may not even be aware that they’re getting it.”

In 2018, Rouse’s office reports 50 fentanyl-related deaths. By 2020, deaths more than quadruple to 220.
And so far this year, the office reports more than 180.

“We do complete toxicology testing so that is blood and tissue samples,” Rouse added. “They get reviewed and that is how we determine whether or not a death may be related to fentanyl so sometimes it’s a process of combining all of those investigative factors, the medical side of things, and toxicology results.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b42c2ef674c0474dbd30fd7a495690e4.jpg
This photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence in a 2019 trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation. (U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP)

Rouse says her staff also works with Metro’s overdose response team. Meantime, the DEA alerts her team about what they’re seeing.

In Kuerner’s case, federal authorities were able to track down her drug dealer and arrest her.

Tianna Cordova pleaded guilty to distributing fentanyl and was sentenced to ten years in prison. She was released early due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Prosecutors appealed that decision and lost.

“What changed? My daughter is still dead and she’s still guilty,” Kuerner said.

Kuerner calls the loss of her daughter and what unfolded in the criminal justice system an emotional rollercoaster.

While fentanyl-related deaths continue with record-breaking numbers, more families are dealing with grief like hers.

According to the coroner’s office, four children under the age of 18 have died from fentanyl in their system this year.