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Greensboro grandmother raising awareness about fentanyl overdose after losing granddaughter

23-year-old Ashley Whaby died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021. Her grandmother thinks Whaby didn’t know the drugs she was taking were laced with fentanyl.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A Greensboro billboard is meant to make you think.

It features a 23-year-old who died after taking drugs laced with fentanyl. 

Her grandmother, Debbie Peeden, paid for the ad in the hopes that it will warn people about the dangers of the drug.

It's not the only one. She has signs in her front yard and even one on her car.

"When I'm in a parking lot people stop and do a double take and look," Peeden said. "People stop and ask me about it."

She wants to talk about it. She can rattle off the names of victims and facts about the drug she's learned since her granddaughter died.

Ashley Whaby died after taking cocaine laced with fentanyl.

"I decided then and there I needed to do something to fight for her," Peeden said. "I needed to fight for other parents."

She is now an administrator of Forgotten Victims of the Piedmont Triad, which raises awareness about fentanyl.

Peeden raised Ashley when her own mother couldn't due to addiction.

"She was not only beautiful on the outside, but she also had such a beautiful heart. Such a beautiful soul," Peeden said. "She loved to fish, she loved four-wheeling and she loved her family."

Ashley struggled with mental health and addiction as an adult but her grandmother said she never let it define who she was.

"I was her biggest advocate throughout her life and I will be her biggest advocate in her death," Peeden said.

It's been ten months since her granddaughter died. Peeden believes Ashley didn't know her drugs were laced with fentanyl and she still can't come to terms with her loss.

"She died alone," Peeden said. "Was she scared was she afraid? Did she know what was happening? I just want other parents not to have to go through what we've gone through."

Peeden hoped to see the person who gave her granddaughter the drugs charged in her death, but said investigators closed the case. 

The Guilford County District Attorney's Office told WFMY News 2's Grace Holland they did not have enough probable cause to pursue a Death By Distribution charge.

Stephen Cole with the DA's office said it can often be difficult to find the source of drugs. 

Peeden said her granddaughter is a part of other billboard campaigns across the country. While she may never see them all, she hopes the message is a life-saving one.

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