'Keep our kids from dying': Ottawa dad pens letter warning of overdoses

A father in Ottawa's Kanata neighbourhood says he's overwhelmed with the number of responses he's received to an open letter he wrote Friday warning parents about a recent spate of drug overdoses in the community.

'Every time these kids are doing drugs, they're playing Russian roulette'

Why Kanata dad Sean O'Leary is speaking out about teen drug addiction

6 years ago
Duration 1:04
On Friday, Sean O'Leary wrote an open letter, pointing out there have been a number of recent overdoses in Kanata and urging parents to be on alert.

When Sean O'Leary pulled into the driveway of his family's home in the Ottawa community of Kanata on New Year's Eve, chaos was unfolding inside his garage.

His daughter had invited a few friends over and when O'Leary got home, a 17-year-old boy was lying on the ground without a heartbeat.

"[There were] five or six teenagers running around, freaking out," said O'Leary, who immediately started performing CPR while on speaker phone with a 911 operator.

"I was about 25 chest compressions in and I really didn't think he was going to come back to life."

Paramedics revived the teen by injecting him with naloxone, an antidote that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. But the whole experience — coupled with the addiction struggles of his own daughter and her friends — compelled O'Leary to issue a public plea warning parents about the dangers of opioids.

O'Leary said Sunday the teen's overdose and the sudden effects of the naloxone injection have changed his and his family's life. 

"It was amazing. Once he was injected with that, it was just like, boom, back to life," O'Leary recalled.

The boy was a friend of his 16-year-old daughter, Paige, who one week earlier had returned home after spending almost three months in treatment for drug addiction.

"I was terrified. That was definitely one of the scariest nights of my life," she told CBC News. "I really didn't know what was going to happen."

We can't fix the whole drug problem, but we've got to find a way as a community to keep our kids from dying.- Parent Sean O'Leary

On Friday, O'Leary wrote his open letter, pointing out there have been a number of recent overdoses in Kanata and urging parents to be on alert.

He thinks there needs to be more withdrawal beds available for teenagers to use while they're waiting to get into drug treatment.

"We can't fix the whole drug problem, but we've got to find a way as a community to keep our kids from dying," said O'Leary.

Paige O'Leary says she got addicted to counterfeit Percocets after taking them for two weeks. She says they cost about $5 a pill and are easily accessible in Kanata, Ont. (CBC)

Parents of addicts respond to letter

Over the past few days the letter has been shared widely on Facebook. O'Leary said the response he's received has been overwhelming.

A meeting is planned for Thursday night to bring parents of addicts together so they can discuss how they can work together to help their kids. The details are being worked out, but O'Leary said Ottawa Public Health will be involved so parents can learn how to use naloxone kits in case they ever need to save a child's life.

"These kids have a word for it, and it's called 'nodding off.' They just go to sleep, they nod off," said O'Leary.

The drug of choice for teens in his daughter's circle of friends is blue counterfeit Percocets, O'Leary said. Public health officials have warned they can sometimes be laced with the deadly opioid fentanyl.

"You can kill yourself with drugs but [in the past] it usually took some effort," said O'Leary.

"These kids can just do a few Percs at home in their bed at night ... and they go to sleep and they stop breathing. And their heart stops and they're dead."

Overdosing more common

Chloe Clark, another friend of Paige, told CBC News she overdosed on a mix of Xanax and Percocets about a week ago. 

The 17-year-old said she doesn't remember being revived, but was told another teenager saved her life with naloxone.

"I need drugs to sleep, I need drugs to wake up in the morning, I need drugs to do stuff during the day. I need Percocets to live a normal life and it sucks," said Clark, who is set to start treatment in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Friends Paige O'Leary, left, and Chloe Clark snap a photo just days before Chloe heads to the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre to seek help for her drug addiction. (CBC)

Paige, who is still trying to quit drugs, said she's happy her dad is raising awareness about what's going on in Kanata.

She said the counterfeit Percocets that got her addicted cost about $5 a pill and are easy to find if you know where to look.

"Not everyone is dying, but everyone is overdosing. It's crazy," she said. "It's a really big problem and it needs to stop."

Her dad said he's hopeful parents can set their shame aside and work together to take care of each other's children.

"Every time these kids are doing drugs, they're playing Russian roulette," O'Leary said.

"If there's 40 families of addicts watching out for my daughter, there's more chance my daughter's going to live than if there's just me trying to make sure she stays alive."