‘It can hap­pen to any­one’s child’

Teen trav­els across coun­try to share her ad­dic­tion story

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - KEVIN CON­NOR

Re­cov­er­ing ad­dict Leila At­tar says she was scared sober af­ter a fen­tanyl over­dose nearly killed her in 2016.

The 19-year-old Ot­tawa teen un­wit­tingly took pills think­ing they were per­co­cets last Novem­ber.

“I had taken too much in the past, but I’d never been so far gone. I had the feel­ing I was so close to death,” At­tar said.

Five weeks ago, At­tar — with her Canada 150 Youth Pass on Via Rail — started a cross-coun­try tour to learn more about the opi­oid cri­sis by vis­it­ing treat­ment cen­tres and in­ner-city drug sites.

“I want to share my strug­gles and learn about the di­ver­sity of oth­ers bat­tling the cri­sis. I have strug­gles with men­tal health and ad­dic­tion, but so do peo­ple all around me,” she said. “I wanted to get some in­sight into why this was hap­pen­ing.”

Dur­ing her trav­els, At­tar met a cou­ple whose 19-year-old daugh­ter — a univer­sity stu­dent — had over­dosed and a fa­ther in law en­force­ment who had lost his teenage son to opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

“It’s not just marginal­ized kids, it can hap­pen to any­one’s child. It’s not just a junkie is­sue. It’s all over,” she said.

At­tar added the way to reach kids is by chang­ing the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

“The fear-based sys­tem doesn’t work. Par­ents have to have con­ver­sa­tions with their kids and let them know they aren’t go­ing to get in trou­ble. It’s not go­ing to work for ev­ery kid but it will work for some,” At­tar said.

At­tar said her drug use started with mar­i­juana when she was 15. Suf­fer­ing from bul­ly­ing and de­pres­sion, she had left home at 16 and grad­u­ated to other party drugs.

At the time of her over­dose, she had no in­ten­sion of tak­ing pills that were laced with fen­tanyl which she got from her reg­u­lar dealer.

“You think they are your friend, but they are just sell­ing to you be­cause they want your money and that is all your life is worth. It al­most killed me,” said At­tar, adding a hugely im­por­tant step is to get more nalox­one — a fen­tanyl an­ti­dote — on the streets.

I want to share my strug­gles and learn about the di­ver­sity of oth­ers bat­tling the cri­sis. I have strug­gles with men­tal health and ad­dic­tion, but so do peo­ple all around me. I wanted to get some in­sight into why this was hap­pen­ing.” Leila At­tar

MIKE CARROCCETTO PHOTO

Leila At­tar – pos­ing at the VIA Rail sta­tion in Ot­tawa ear­lier this sum­mer — is trav­el­ling across the coun­try to talk about her own ad­dic­tion and near-fatal over­dose, and lis­ten to the sto­ries and strug­gles of oth­ers.

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