Mom of Dartmouth teen who died in suspected overdose calls for better drug education

When Miya Harris left home last Tuesday night to visit her best friend a few blocks away, she told her mom she’d be out late.

Her mom, Joannie Harris, watched the 15-year-old go without a worry. She said her daughter was a hard worker with “a real good head on her shoulders.” She was dedicated to her rugby team, worked at McDonald’s and kept her grades up as a student at Dartmouth High School.

Miya had mostly stayed inside since the start of the pandemic, Harris said, so she was glad to see her daughter making plans.

“I encouraged her to go out and have a little bit of fun. She was stuck in this house for weeks and weeks and hardly went out,” Harris said.

It was sometime after midnight, Harris said, when police knocked on her door and took her to Leaman Drive, where Miya was being loaded into an ambulance.

Harris said she’s since pieced together what happened after Miya said goodbye based on the accounts of her daughter’s friends and the police.

Miya Harris and her mom, Joannie Harris. (Submitted by Gary Harris)

She believes Miya and her best friend, another 15-year-old girl, both took MDMA (ecstasy), and both girls had seizures.

Miya died in Dartmouth General Hospital shortly after arriving there early Wednesday morning. 

Cause of death will be determined with toxicology results

Miya’s family suspects she died of an accidental drug overdose. Harris said she expects the results of toxicology testing will confirm that Miya took ecstasy, and that it was laced with an opioid such as fentanyl.

“It’s a senseless, senseless tragedy,” Harris said. “It didn’t have to happen.”

The family’s suspicions have been circulating through the community, with individuals and drug safety advocates sharing warnings about a tainted drug supply on social media.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority responded to those concerns on Twitter this week, saying it had received community reports of opioid contamination in non-opioid illicit drugs.

Reports of tainted drugs haven’t been confirmed yet

Amanda Hudson, co-ordinator for the take-home naloxone program with the NSHA, told CBC News in an email that none of those reports of opioid contamination have been confirmed by the medical examiner, law enforcement or toxicology.

But, she said, there’s always the potential for any drug supply to be contaminated, adding that anyone using any substance in pill or powder format could be at risk.

Hudson recommended having naloxone, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioids, on hand, even when using drugs that aren’t advertised as opioids. Information about where to get free naloxone kits in Nova Scotia is available online.

Calls for youth to learn about risks, safe use

Harris said she hopes her daughter’s death and her family’s grief will not be in vain.

“I just want kids to be more educated [about] what they’re taking. That first time could be their last time … I just want to be able to save somebody else,” she said.

Matthew Bonn, the co-founder of HaliFIX overdose prevention site, said youth should be learning more about safe drug use in school.

Bonn is an advocate for the harm-reduction approach, which aims to minimize the negative social and physical consequences of drug use, without stigmatizing users.

Matthew Bonn, the co-founder of HaliFIX overdose prevention site, said youth should be learning more about safe drug use in school. (Radio-Canada)

“Kids should be learning about safe drug use just like they do safe sex,” Bonn said in an interview.

Bonn said he’s visited many Nova Scotia schools to talk to students about his personal experience with drug use and to promote harm reduction. But he said those ad hoc visits, which last an hour or half a day, aren’t enough.

“It kinda takes these superstar teachers that see the value of bringing people in with lived experience for kids to even get that little bit of information.”

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