The death of Saint John teen Gavin Adams has provoked a New Brunswick drug rehabilitation worker to warn parents to start talking to their children about drugs and alcohol as early as elementary school.

"I remember being a teenager — you're unstoppable," said Tambrie Hicks of Portage Atlantic, outside Saint John. "Unfortunately, that is not the case and we lose a young man such as Gavin."

Tambrie Hicks

Tambrie Hicks is the admissions officer at Portage, a drug rehabilitation centre in Cassidy Lake. (Submitted)

Adams disappeared in December 2013 after taking a so-called designer drug, 25i NBOME. His body was found two days later, partly buried in snow. This week, the man who gave him the drug was convicted of criminal negligence causing death.

Hicks, an admissions officer at Portage Atlantic, said she sees young people from across the province who are looking for help.

Different drugs are popular in different areas, and a recent arrival in Moncton is alarming, she said.

"There's a new thing going on in Moncton ... they're mixing cocaine and fentanyl together, which just blows me away because of how scary it could be," she said.

Hicks believes parents need to keep the lines of communication with their children open.

"Be prepared to hear some things that you don't necessarily want to hear and don't react too strongly because if you do, I think you're going to close that door of communication," Hicks told Information Morning Saint John.

Speed also popular  

Neil Young, who runs a Moncton outreach drug intervention program for teenagers, said he isn't seeing fentanyl mixed with cocaine but he has heard of it.

Neil Young

Neil Young, who manages Youth Impact's drug intervention program, says he's heard about drug users combining fentanyl and cocaine, a mix he calls 'scary.'

"It definitely is a scary mix," said Young, whose program is part of Youth Impact.

Young doesn't think Moncton's fentanyl problem is anywhere near as bad as the fentanyl crisis in B.C., where a public health emergency was declared.

But that doesn't mean the drug isn't an issue, he said. 

"We're not having the mass overdoses like they're having out West right now, but it's still here, you know. We can't put blinders on."

Young and two other people counsel about 30 kids through the intervention program at any one time. Speed is the drug causing the most problems, he said.

"Once they get doing it they can't get stopped," he said. "And you know they are staying up all night for days on end and doing it doing it, doing it and it's causing a lot of problems for them."

Educate kids at an early age

Hicks said it is not uncommon at the Portage rehabilitation centre to admit young people who started smoking marijuana as early as 10 years old.

"It's important to educate kids at an early age — and I mean an early age — and talk about things and not just alcohol and drugs but talk about everything to your children and keep everything open so they know they can come to you."

Hicks said many teens may feel a false sense of security when it comes to "designer drugs," because they are made by someone they know, but she said parents should make it clear there is no safe street drug.

"You don't know what's in it, for one thing, you don't know how it's going to affect your body," Hicks said.

"Just because somebody can do acid and not have any ill-effects certainly doesn't mean that I could do acid and not have any ill-effects, because we're all wired very differently, and really we don't know how it's going to affect us."

Hicks also pointed to the importance of encouraging teens to have a "positive peer support group."

"We're not all built to be leaders ... I was a bit of a follower in high school but luckily I had friends that didn't lead me astray."

With files from Information Morning Saint John