New Brunswick

Grieving family of Saint John teen warn of dangers of 'designer drugs'

David and Sonja Adams say they hope next week's court decision involving the 2013 drug-related death of their 17-year-old son Gavin will send a message to dealers, parents and youth about the dangers of so-called designer drugs.

Judge will rule Feb. 20 whether Richard Valiquette is guilty in death of 17-year-old Gavin Adams

Three years later, the Adams family continues to mourn the loss of Gavin, shown on the left in this undated photo. (Submitted)

In the uptown Saint John home where the late Gavin Adams grew up, running out the door most mornings to juggle a busy schedule of sports, school and music, his parents have learned to live with his absence.

"You're not expecting for the grief to end," said David Adams, sitting in the living room where a colourful portrait of Gavin with his sister in their younger days brightens the western wall.

"Because it won't. It's always there."

Gavin Adams, 17, whose Saint John High School photo hangs above his family's fireplace, aspired to study at McGill University and become a psychologist. (Submitted)

Gavin's body was discovered partly buried in snow in a north end parking lot on Dec. 16, 2013 — two days after witnesses placed the 17–year–old in the apartment of Richard Valiquette, who has since pleaded guilty to making psychedelic drugs.

On Feb. 20, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Frederick Ferguson will rule whether Valiquette, 28, is guilty of criminal negligence causing Gavin's death by giving him a substance unfit for human consumption, with reckless disregard for the Saint John High School student's safety.

The offence carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

David Adams, and his wife Sonja, say they've prepared themselves for any outcome.

But they hope the court will send a message.

"There needs to be something happen as a deterrent to selling these harmful substances to children," said Adams.

"I do believe Mr. Valiquette knew the dangers of his product and I believe that was pretty well spelled out in the evidence."

At the trial in October, Gavin's friend, 19–year–old Adrian Goguen, testified that they'd gone together to Valiquette's the night of Dec. 14, 2013, and that they each purchased and ingested four tabs of a highly potent LSD–like substance called 25i NBOME.

Goguen said they both got so high, they could barely speak. He ended up in the emergency room that night.

Gavin, after getting separated from Goguen, ultimately perished, probably lost and disoriented and most certainly alone.

Wanted to know the truth

Gavin Adams never caused his parents any trouble growing up. 'He was a focused young man and he was extremely busy,' said his father, David Adams. (Submitted)

Adams says from that moment forward, the Saint John police were on a mission to understand what happened and what it meant to the community.

The investigation took a year.

During that time, Adams says the family was constantly informed and consulted.

"We were asked for permission to do certain things. One of them was to have access to Gavin's telephone and those records and that was an important step because that really opened up the truth of the matter, good and bad."

He says the family was also asked what they wanted to know and what was too much to bear.

Gavin Adams' father speaks

5 years ago
1:20
David Adam speaks to CBC about the death of his son, Gavin, from so-called designer drugs in Saint John in 2013. 1:20

During the trial, the family left the courtroom only once, before the viewing of graphic photographs showing Gavin's body, as it was eventually found by a search and rescue crew in a parking lot near the Chesley Drive bus terminal.

Gavin's blood sample tested positive for 25i NOBME, a synthetically produced hallucinogenic drug.

'This is a game–changer'

Adams says what's now clear to him, and hopefully clear to other parents, is how fatally tempting this new class of so–called designer drugs might be to youths who are inclined to experiment.

That's because they're potent but cheaper than street drugs, he says, and in some cases, not illegal.

The drug 25i NOBME only became a controlled substance in Canada in October 2016.

Adams says youths don't compute the risk.

He says they're too young to worry about quality control, or where the chemicals that are so easily ordered online from countries like China, actually come from.

Now I believe the medical community and law enforcement and first responders are more aware of these substances and can at least do their jobs with the knowledge they need to be successful.- David Adams, father

"It's a new world for police and the medical community. It's a new world for parents," he said.

"This is a game–changer. And this is why hundreds of young people are dying needlessly."

Adams says Gavin's death and the story of how it happened, has hopefully awoken others to a new threat that needs to be part of family conversations.

He says, it's also given emergency workers something to consider.

"At least it's a step in the right direction," he said.

"Now I believe the medical community and law enforcement and first responders are more aware of these substances and can at least do their jobs with the knowledge they need to be successful."

Richard Valiquette, 28, will learn his verdict on Feb. 20 on a charge of criminal negligence causing death. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

It's clear the family wants some accountability, especially given all the resources spent on the investigation and the two–week trial.

"It's unfortunate that Gavin was heavily influenced by an adult, and Mr. Valiquette was an adult," said Adams.

"I'm an adult...I've spent most of my life, most of my career helping to bring up young people and have them strive for excellence and be the best they can.

"So exploiting them for financial gain or profit is just not part of something I can understand."

Had conversations about drugs, alcohol

Gavin Adams' behaviour did not set off any alarm bells for his parents. (Submitted)

With Gavin's yearbook on the mantle and high school photo framed over the fireplace, his father reflected on the question of what more he could have done to protect his son.

"We had many conversations about alcohol and drugs and the dangers that they can possess," said Adams.

"I felt quite confident that he was responsible and wasn't putting himself in harm's way."

Gavin's behaviour did not set off alarms, said Adams. He didn't party and did not come home intoxicated, he said.

"He was a focused young man and he was extremely busy. He sang in the school choir, and he played violin, played the piano. He was on the school football team and rugby team. He was also a swimmer."

Adams says Gavin got a 98 in sociology on his last report card and aspired to study at McGill University. His potential as a psychologist has now been lost to society.

Trying to carry on

Gavin Adams, pictured here with his sister, Elspeth, got good grades and was involved in several extracurricular activities. (Submitted)

Next week's court ruling will be another step in a process that Adams describes as difficult, but one that must be endured.

He says he, Gavin's mother and sister are doing their best to carry on with their work and their involvement in the community.

Elspeth is studying early childhood education at New Brunswick Community College in Saint Andrews.

The family's old heritage house is getting some work; the kitchen's been stripped for a major renovation.

The Saint John String Quartet, featuring Adams on violin and his wife on cello, toured South America last year and has a busy schedule into the spring.

"We're determined to live the way Gavin would have liked us to live," said Adams.

"I think it would be a disappointment to Gavin if we did otherwise."

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