CORNELIUS, N.C. — A North Carolina mother is traveling to schools and other functions in hopes of saving lives after her son died from an overdose after doing drugs that were unknowingly laced with fentanyl.
"I'm heartbroken," Debbie Dalton said. "That's never going to change."
Her son, Hunter, died in 2016 when he was 23 years old.
"It was the day after Thanksgiving," she said.
Hunter had traveled back to Raleigh, where he worked. His mother said he used recreational drugs on occasion for fun, but was not dependent on them.
Debbie remembers she was writing out Christmas cards when she received a call from Hunter.
"I grabbed it and I said, 'I was just thinking about you!' And it was his roommate," Debbie remembered. "And I knew when I heard Blake's name it was really bad because he had only been living in Raleigh for two months."
She was stunned by what she heard next.
"Nothing prepared me for what I heard next, which is that Hunter had overdosed," she said, getting choked up.
The Cornelius mother described a pain unlike any other -- the pain of losing a child.
"An ache. Like an actual ache that will never go away," she said.
She and her husband rushed to Raleigh. Their son was still alive but was he fighting for his life.
"We prayed over him and we held his hand," Debbie said. "Each day, he got worse."
Hunter died in the hospital with his mother holding his hand as he took his last breath.
"No words," she said, describing the pain. "Just heartbroken."
Hunter took cocaine that was laced with fentanyl, the deadly synthetic pain reliever that's killed thousands of Americans and is rated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the deadliest drug in America.
"Get the facts, know about fentanyl, talk to them [children]," she said as she urged education.
Hunter was Debbie's only child. The day he died, she lost her whole world. However, somehow she's finding the strength to help prevent another parent or relative from feeling her pain.
"I knew the only way I was going to survive this, was to honor him," she said.
Debbie started the HD Life Foundation, honoring her son, Hunter Dalton.
"He would always tell his friends he was living the HD life," she said as she smiled. "I kept thinking if this happened to us, it's happening. I had been so naive about it. I didn't know about fentanyl. I didn't know these things."
She never expected the opioid crisis to hit so close to home.
"I was that person two years ago who never thought I'd lose my son to this," Debbie said. "Don't be that parent. ... You have an opportunity to save your child."
Debbie travels around talking to children, teens, and parents to share Hunter's story, hoping to keep people from doing any type of drug.
"Don't do drugs," she said. "Live a life of unconditional love. Make good decisions."
She gives presentations, and hands out bracelets, hoping to remind people to live the, "HD Life."
On Tuesday, she will be at the Connection Cornelius: Organization Spotlight meeting to talk about her organization. You can hear Hunter's story there and listen to how the organization is helping the community.
It starts at 8:30 a.m. at Harvey's Cornelius on Cove Road in Cornelius.