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Leila Attar, Ottawa teen who survived fentanyl overdose speaks in Vancouver

19-year-old Leila Attar survived a fentanyl overdose. Now she's travelling the country speaking about her experience. CKNW

“Yeah, sorry there was fentanyl in it.”

That was the half-hearted apology from a trusted friend after Leila Attar overdosed on the drugs she was given as part of a “breakup” with substances.

Now, the 19-year-old Ottawa resident who almost died taking what she thought was Percocet last November is in Vancouver, at the end of a coast-to-coast tour talking about her experience and trying to learn from others.

LISTEN: Leila Attar shares her story of addiction and recovery

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Attar said her affair with drugs began when she was 16, a way to self-medicate from depression, bullying and being kicked out of her home.

“You really don’t care if you live or die, all you’re trying to get through is the next day,” she told CKNW’s Steele and Drex.

“It’s just like it just comes down to you don’t see a way out, you don’t see any light, you’re surrounded by darkness… I didn’t think I’d live to see another year of my life.”

READ MORE: Hundreds gather to remember teen who died of fentanyl overdose

But a real brush with death was enough to convince Attar to make a change. She detoxed, cut partying friends out of her life and went back to school.

“I call it a breakup because drugs and I had a relationship in a sense, where I could turn to them and I knew they’d be there for me and that was kind of the comforting, they’d put you to sleep at night or whatever,” Attar said.

Now she’s hoping her experience can make a difference in a drug crisis that has spread right across the country.

WATCH: Leila Attar joins CKNW’s Steele & Drex

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Using the Canada 150 VIA Rail train pass for youth, Attar has embarked on a self-funded, month-long coast-to-coast tour, speaking with advocates, parents, teens and others who’ve been affected by drugs.

She said there’s been one recurring theme in the conversations she has had about drugs and addictions.

“Mental illness is something that keeps coming up, it’s very much [present along with] with addiction, or even just escaping an internal pain, or your circumstances, homelessness or whatever it is,” Attar said.

READ MORE: Stories from the other side: Voices of addiction and recovery

It’s become clear to Attar that while education and harm reduction are important planks in the battle against addiction, more attention needs to be focused on breaking the stigma and opening the door to recovery.

That means developing a continuum of care that involves more than just a detox bed for a week, Attar said.

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“Now that you’re clean, how can we rebuild your life and change your circumstances so you don’t fall back into that path?”

Attar has a few lessons to share. One is that you can’t trust your dealer, no matter how well you know them.

“I thought he was a friend that I could trust… and obviously that’s not true,” she said. “And something that I try to get across is you don’t know your source, and even if you trust these guys they might not know what they’re getting.”

READ MORE: Inside St. Paul’s ER: The front line of B.C.’s overdose crisis

Another lessons is that parents need to talk to their kids about drugs in a way that’s not judgmental or based on fear. Otherwise, they could risk being shut out of their kids’ lives — or even lose their children altogether.

“Do not be ignorant enough to assume your child will not do a line of, you know, coke or whatever at a party or will experiment and things,” Attar said.

“Because the reality is these things are out there, fentanyl is in absolutely everything.”

Instead, she said parents should be open, involved and even work with their kids on developing an emergency safety plan.

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Attar plans to spend the rest of her week in Vancouver meeting with the BC Centre on Substance Use and other advocates and touring the Downtown Eastside.

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