As the family and friends of an Ottawa-area teenager who died of a drug overdose earlier in February attended a memorial at her former high school on Wednesday evening, the father of another teenager who also died from an overdose in December spoke out about how it’s impacted his family.

The community of Kanata, Ont., a suburb of Ottawa, has been grappling with the dangers of pharmaceutical drug use among its youth. The problem has come to light in recent weeks after two teenaged girls, Chloe Kotval and Teslin Russell, died from drug overdoses within months of each other.

Kotval was a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at All Saints Catholic High School in Kanata, Ont. Her mother found her non-responsive in their home on Feb. 12. Tests showed that she had suffered complete and irreversible loss of brain function as a result of taking pharmaceutical drugs of an unknown origin.

Kotval’s fellow students, who attended her memorial at the high school on Wednesday, told CTV Ottawa that her death was a “wake up call” for them. They said they know their friends are in danger and they want to be part of the conversation on finding solutions. Her parents also referred to the drug problem in the community in a statement about their daughter’s death they released a week ago.

“We are concerned about the epidemic nature of the use of high grade pharmaceuticals amongst young people and their lack of knowledge about them,” the statement read. “The consequences of using them are real and terrible.”

The Kotvals also said their daughter made a “horrible mistake” and that drugs were not a part of her life. They described her as an animal lover who was well-loved and had a large group of friends.

“Chloe had a spark of life in her that was pure sunshine. The hole left by the loss of our beautiful daughter will never be filled,” they said in the statement.

Grieving father speaks of loss

Another parent still reeling from the death of his 18-year-old daughter Teslin at the end of December spoke to CTV Ottawa on Wednesday about the impact her loss has had on their family.

“We were a family of five and now we’re a family of four,” Russell said. “There’s a big gaping hole in the family. In everything we do, there’s one missing.”

Teslin was found dead on the bathroom floor in her family’s home in Kanata on Dec. 30. Her father said he didn’t understand at the time what happened to her until he found pills in her purse later that day. The Ottawa police later confirmed that the drugs in Teslin’s purse were counterfeit Percocet painkillers laced with Fentanyl, a deadly opioid about 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Her father said he learned from one of his daughter’s close friends that Teslin had been secretly taking the drugs for up to six months.

“I didn’t know what they were. I just knew they weren’t normal,” Russell said. “They weren’t prescription. They didn’t look like prescription but they could have been I guess. I don’t know.”

Russell described his daughter as beautiful woman inside and out with a “heart of gold.” She was a competitive figure skater who had just started attending college for nursing after graduating from Kanata’s Holy Trinity High School.

“It’s always challenging when you raise kids and they get through high school and graduate and you think you’ve done a good job,” he said, choking back tears.

Russell said he was sharing Teslin’s story to let other families know about the risks of taking pharmaceutical drugs, such as opioid painkillers, in the hopes that what happened to his daughter doesn’t happen again.

Sean O’Leary is another parent in the community raising awareness about the dangers of drug use. His 16-year-old daughter Paige has struggled with opioid addiction since the summer before she began Grade 10. She has been through treatment and is no longer taking the drugs, but her father felt compelled to write an open letter on Feb. 17 about the problem after Paige’s friend overdosed in his house.

Rallying the community

O’Leary wrote that most families in Kanata understand there is a drug problem and that he penned the letter in an effort to rally the community to gather together to talk about the issue.

“I have talked to a few parents of other addict/abusers in Kanata and their stories are all the same,” he wrote. “We the parents of these kids and future kids need to unite for ourselves and for our kids.”

The Kanata father organized a “Town Hall type” meeting for families in the community and said Ottawa Health promised them full support by supplying treatment kits with Naloxone, a life-saving antidote to opioids.

“The days of the saying ‘They need to hit rock bottom before getting better’ are over,” O’Leary wrote. “Sadly in most cases today rock bottom is a slab at the morgue.”

With files from CTV Ottawa