The family of a Victoria teen who died of an overdose last week is speaking out to raise awareness of B.C.'s toxic-drug crisis, and to urge parents and guardians to talk to their children about drug use.
Kylie Walker, 18, was among a group of six teens who overdosed on Thursday evening, according to her great-uncle Joe Thorne.
While he does not know the current condition of the other five, Thorne says Kylie was the only one to die.
Her death came as a huge shock, he told CBC News.
"What happened? I don't know ... I thought everything was OK," said Thorne. "To me everything I felt was normal, but it shows you how much I didn't look deep enough."
The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed they are investigating a death in Victoria on Thursday night but did not provide any other information, citing privacy considerations.
The province declared a public health emergency due to the overdose crisis in April 2016. Since then, an estimated 10,326 people have died from toxic illicit drugs.
'It's like a bad dream'
Kylie's mother Angela Walker told CHEK News that Kylie had been 18 months sober and was in a treatment program.
"There was no sign of any of this at all. She was healthy, she was doing well," said Walker.
Walker said Kylie was finishing high school. She said she loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian.
"She was loving to everybody she met," she added.
"I'm still in shock. It's like a bad dream that I wish I could wake up from."
Thorne said he will remember Kylie for her beautiful eyes.
"I'd look at them and I'd think, 'you have laughing eyes,' and that's a good thing," he said.
Walker is calling on other parents to talk openly and often about drug use with their kids.
The family says they are still waiting for a coroner's report to determine more details about Kylie's death.
Island Health issued a drug poisoning advisory for Greater Victoria earlier this month due to an increase in overdoses in the area, but it was lifted on Oct. 11.
In a statement sent to CBC News, Island Health said, "it is important to be aware that the illegal drug supply in every community on the Island and in B.C. is more toxic and unpredictable than ever."
People using illicit drugs are urged to not use alone, and to carry naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug.
Overdoses trending younger
Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm — an advocacy and support group for families affected by substance use — said the organization will be in touch with Walker's family to provide support.
"Younger people are becoming more and more the victims of these toxic drugs," said McBain.
A report from the B.C. Coroners Service in March that reviewed deaths from illicit drug toxicity between 2017 and 2021 found the average age of death is trending younger, and currently stands at 42.
The coroner's most recent report on toxic drug deaths, compiling figures to the end of August, found that 22 people under the age of 19 have died so far this year.
McBain said two key steps the provincial government need to take are to provide a safe supply of drugs and offer better education and awareness to youth.
"It's a tragedy. It's preventable. It's shocking. But especially when it's youth, it just tears our hearts out," she said.
Illicit drug toxicity is the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, motor vehicle incidents, drownings and fire-related deaths combined, according to the coroner.