Pubdate: Tue, 18 Jul 2017
Source: Metro (Edmonton, CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Metro Canada
Author: Omar Mosleh
Page: 4


Leila Attar to discuss dangers of the drug with youth, parents

Leila Attar was unconscious on the floor of her Ottawa home when a
loud knock at her door shook her from a drug-induced blackout at 2

"It was non-stop … I thought it was the cops because of how loud it
was," she recalled.

It turned out to be a close friend coming to check on her because
Attar, now 19, had stopped responding to texts. Later, she would be
told by doctors that she was overdosing on fentanyl after taking pills
she thought were Percocet.

Today, she recognizes that day in November 2016 as a

"If I didn't have that overdose I don't know if I would have stopped …
At that point you don't care if you live or die," she said.

In 2016, 363 people died from fentanyl overdoses in Alberta. Attar
speaks from a rare position of experience. She overdosed, but lived.

Now, she wants to warn others and is using her experience to reach out
to youth across the country as part of a nationwide tour on the
dangers of fentanyl.

It was a turbulent adolescence that led to Attar smoking marijuana at
a young age. When her mother found out, she dropped her at a bus stop
and said she was no longer welcome at home.

Attar found herself living on the streets at 16. Feeling abandoned by
her family, drugs became her companion.

"You don't know where you belong," she said. "It's traumatizing in a

'Your drug dealer is not your friend'

Attar transitioned from homelessness and found an apartment and a job
in the service industry. She started taking prescription pills as a
way to calm her anxiety while working long shifts.

Her preference was the opiate Percocet. A combination of acetaminophen
and oxycodone, it's about 200 times weaker than fentanyl.

She said even as she heard of fentanyl overdoses becoming more common,
she never thought she'd become a statistic. Opiates are increasingly
laced with deadly fentanyl, but Attar figured it wouldn't happen to

"I thought I know who I'm getting it from, they're my buddy, it's

Now, one of the messages Attar hopes to emphasize with young people is
this: Your drug dealer is not your friend.

When she confronted the dealer who sold her pills, whom she considered
a friend, he sort of shrugged his shoulders and said 'sorry'.

"That was a huge eye-opener," Attar said. "I realized this guy doesn't
care about me."

Life after near-death

After her overdose, Attar returned to work in the service industry but
didn't feel right.

"I had overdosed before but never to the point where I felt that sick.
So I knew something was wrong," she said.

In a sense, the traumatic experience actually helped her get off

"For the rest of that next week I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and
I couldn't put any more drugs into me," she said. "So I guess that's
how I detoxed."

Attar has been sober for about seven months. She compares quitting
drugs to a bad breakup.

"I had a relationship with drugs, it was like my love," she said. "It
was like you guys have never hurt me, all you've done is help me
escape and now I can't even have that. So I felt completely alone."

Today she no longer feels alone. As part of her tour, she's been
speaking with individuals who are struggling with drug addiction or
parents who have lost their children to opiate overdoses.

"The biggest thing for me is hope, to know there's a way out," Attar
said. "And I never would have thought that ― when you're in that
dark spot, you're so buried by darkness that you just can't see a way

But Attar knows intimately that if you search hard enough, there is a
way out. But it takes hard work, dedication and the desire for change.

"There's no magic pill, rehab isn't just going to fix your problems
. at the end of the day it's your life and you have to value it
enough to change it."

A brighter path forward

A positive to emerge from Attar's meeting with grieving parents is she
realizes how many people across the country, from all walks of life,
are affected by the drug epidemic.

"It's very emotionally taxing, but it provides a lot of insight into
the stigmas their kids face, the mental illnesses their kids had, and
what did or didn't work for them."

The breaking point for Attar was when a 14-year-old in Ottawa died of
a fentanyl overdose.

"That's when I wanted to take my experience to help people," Attar

And while her intention was to help others, she has also found the
tour to be a healing experience for her personally.

"The more I'm able to talk to people and share my story, it helps me
not feel shameful about my past … I never thought I would be able to
live a life like this at all.
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