When Christian Boivin last saw his teenage son alive, he was brushing his teeth and getting ready to go to sleep at their Montreal home a few days before Christmas.
Mathis Boivin, 15, crawled into bed as he usually did while his family was cozy in the living room the night of Dec. 21. He died in his sleep.
“He never woke up,” Boivin said in an interview Friday before his son’s funeral.
The father is speaking out after his eldest child fatally overdosed after buying what he believed was oxycontin.
After dinner that night, Boivin said Mathis headed out to one of Montreal’s metro stations and purchased five pills for $50. He only took one pill that night.
Mathis ended up ingesting a drug called isotonitazene, an opioid which Montreal’s public health department describes as “more potent than fentanyl.”
“It took just one and it was poison,” Boivin said of the drug.
Montreal’s public health department said in an email that isotonitazene is associated with a high risk of overdose and it is regularly detected in street drugs, including pills and powders. The health authority issued an alert about pills laced with the opioid in November 2020.
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Isotonitazene was found in the post-mortem toxicological tests of 14 people who have died since 2020, according to Montreal public health. Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses, can be effective but may require more than one dose since isotonitazene is powerful.
Mathis took the pill alone and then was at home, Boivin said, with his unsuspecting parents only a few feet away. Boivin only realized something was wrong the next morning, when he heard Mathis’ alarm go off but he didn’t get up.
Boivin described his son as a normal teenager who “had a small life, but a great one.” Mathis attended Collège de Montréal, liked travelling and spending time with friends. The 15-year-old also loved music and often went with his father to concerts, including a memorable trip to see Bruce Springsteen in New York last spring.
Mathis wasn’t struggling from addiction at the time of his death, his father said, but became curious about drugs like other teens. They had spoken openly about it before but his parents didn’t know he had taken isotonitazene until after his death.
“He was a kid who wanted to experiment with some stuff, like I did,” Boivin said.
But they had previously tried to warn their son about drugs, especially powerful opioids, because of how dangerous they can be.
What the family is hoping for by talking about Mathis’ death is to raise awareness and prevent other fatal overdoses. They hope to encourage parents and children to talk openly about the risks associated with drugs.
“Don’t take that,” Boivin said. “Don’t even try…Because Mathis, it was the first time he tried that (isotonitazene) and he died the first time. There was no second chance.”
The message of caution has already sunk in for some of Mathis’ childhood friends who attended his funeral.
William Zhao said he saw Mathis the day before he died, and that he has been really sad in the weeks that followed.
“We wouldn’t want our friends and families to feel the same way we felt,” Zhao said.
The family honoured Mathis with a funeral Friday and plan on burying their eldest son with a can of Coca Cola, his favourite drink. The parents are doing their best to support their 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
“They help my wife and I to be strong too, because I have to be strong for them,” Boivin said.
While they plan to hold on to the wonderful memories they had with Mathis, he opted for his young daughter’s apt one-word description of their unthinkable loss.
“She called it ‘the event,'” Boivin said. “This is the only thing she can say about this at the time — the event. And, you know, in the future we will have before the event and after the event.”
Montreal public health urges anyone who buys street drugs in the city to know there is a risk the substance is laced with fentanyl or other similar drugs. It asks people be cautious and never use drugs alone.
Montreal police say they could not comment on whether an investigation is underway into Mathis’ death.
— with files from Global’s Elizabeth Zogalis