Grieving mother hopes Woodlands High School teen daughter’s overdose death prevents others

Now, they're sharing her story in hopes to save lives

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Parents forced to bury their children say the pain is incomparable. Now, one mother in The Woodlands is using her grief to inform others about the dangers of addiction so that her daughter’s death may help save other lives.

“Wherever Irene went, people had fun,” said Mandy Sunderland.

The Sunderland family fell in love with their daughter Irene the moment she was adopted from Beijing China.

“She was amazing… she was a bit edgy,” Sunderland said.

The 18-year-old Drexel University-bound Woodlands high school senior was considered popular by her loved ones and peers.

“She became more comfortable with herself and her uniqueness, and everybody responded to that. She had a lot of friends. People adored her,” Sunderland said.

But Sunderland says behind her daughter’s bright light, was the darkness of drug addiction.

“I tried to give her her life as best she could, but keep her safe from herself,” Sunderland said.

On May 5, she says Irene’s addiction overpowered the family’s efforts.

“An intervention person was at my house in the kitchen, and when she said it was time to wake up my daughter before she went to school to begin the intervention, with my letter and all that… my daughter was gone,” Sunderland said.

She believes Irene may have overdosed on drugs laced with Fentanyl, an inexpensive synthetic opioid that’s 80-100 times more powerful than Morphine.

“Probably the scariest thing about the use of opioids is that oftentimes they are laced with contaminates… Other more powerful opioids that can lead to death,” said HCA Healthcare Emergency Medicine Physician, Dr. Adam Tenke.

Dr. Tenke said Narcan be purchased over the counter at pharmacies and can instantly reverse the effects of an overdose. Though it may be too late for Irene, loved ones are pairing her story with advice to prevent similar outcomes.

“To the adolescents that struggle, I would say that all emotions are temporary and therefore don’t warrant actions that might have permanent consequences,” said Lily Yeager, a close friend of Irene.

“It’s a difficult place to navigate but we need to have conversations and we need to make them feel like they can come to us,” Sunderland said.

In lieu of flowers, the Sunderland family is asking that donations be made to The Center for Success and Independence -, Center for Success and Independence in/outpatient treatment center for adolescents dealing with addiction and mental health issues. The number is 713-426-4545.

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