Grade 6 student who died of suspected drug overdose 'was so strong and sure of herself'

OD victim was 'so strong'

Twelve-year-old Allayah Yoli Thomas is making headlines as perhaps the youngest person to die from an illicit-drug overdose in B.C., but to family she was just Allie, a happy and strong kid who enjoyed being with her family.

Allayah, a Grade 6 student at Gordon Head Middle School, died April 15 of what her mother, Adriana Londono, said was a fatal overdose after taking heroin believed to contain fentanyl. The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating the cause of death.

“As a daughter she was stronger than me,” said Londono, 31. “When I was sad, she’d make me get out of bed and say: ‘Mama, toughen up and do your makeup. She would mother me when I needed her. I know that’s not what a kid should do, but I was so grateful for her.”

Allayah was born on Feb. 11, 2009 — weighing about six pounds — in a High River, Alta. hospital where her Colombian grandmother worked as a lab technician. The family had moved there from Colombia when Londono was about seven.

Shortly after her first child’s birth, Londono returned to Calgary where, with the same partner, she became pregnant six months later with Allayah’s sister.

Their close ages made the sisters act like twins in their early years.

For the first five years, Londono had ­low-income housing and government support. She said she didn’t mind the challenges of single-parenting: “I really enjoyed it. There is nothing I would choose other than that.”

She struggled, however, with mental-health and substance-use problems. When that ­happened, Londono’s mother would take Allayah and her sister in for months at a time. Allayah, she said, had a gift for making people happy. She was proud and resilient.

“She was so strong and sure of herself — she was so confident and that’s something I really admired,” said Londono.

She loved to do “anything artistic,” but she was not interested in sports. She was in cadets. She babied her two-year-old brother. She was devoted to her few close friends.

When Londono eventually fell into an abusive relationship, her mother, Yoli Patino, and stepfather, Jerry Preikschas, who had ­purchased an apartment in Cartagena, ­Colombia, brought their daughter and grandchildren to Colombia with them. They stayed there three years, from 2015 to 2018.

“It was beautiful … and the girls were inseparable.” It was hoped that being in their home country, with a change of scenery, would help the family heal.

Afterwards, the family moved to Gordon Head in Victoria. In hindsight, it was maybe not the best move, said Londono.

“Moving in Victoria changed her in a way,” Londono said of her daughter. Victoria has a dark side, she said.

“It’s beautiful for those who are wealthy and are in the limelight, but for the people who are poor, or addicts, or struggling, they just try to hide them away,” said Londono. “They’d rather put them in hotels or whatever and continue to live their pretty lives.”

Allayah had a beautiful home and loving family but felt “out of place” at Gordon Head Middle School, said her mother. She was older and felt more experienced. She gravitated to friends from Langford and meeting people downtown, she said. She wanted to be a teenager.

Grandparents Patino, 56, and Preikschas, 60, are too grief-stricken to speak about their grandaughter’s death, said Londono. “They had a very close bond.”

On the day she died, Allayah, in search of a depressant like heroin, purchased fentanyl, in downtown Victoria. Afterwards, she went to a friend’s home in Langford. She went to bed and never woke up.

Her mother said, based on her young age, her daughter was denied treatment for her drug use.

On Thursday, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson issued a statement of sympathy to the family for their “unimaginable loss.”

“No child should go through what she did,” said Malcolmson. “We are committed to preventing kids from going down this path by building a system that catches them before they fall.

“I know that more help is needed now. We are working quickly to put resources into place and make large-scale systemic changes that will save lives.”

Malcolmson urged people not to use drugs alone, to always have overdose-remedy Naloxone on hand and to seek support, noting help is available to people of all ages. Nobody is too young to receive support, she said

“We are working to ensure that everybody can get the help they need, when they need it,” said Malcolmson. “We are committed to doing better.”

Same-day access to mental health and addictions care is available to British Columbians of any age through hospitals and the new urgent and primarycare centres, she said. Island Health, and other agencies that support youth, can waive age requirements for treatment.

Allayah’s father, Andrew Thomas, who lives near Calgary, told CHEK he appealed to the Ministry of Children and Families to have his daughter live with him in Alberta, where there is better drug treatment and beds for kids 12 and older, as well as a protective safe house where youth under age 18 with serious drug or alcohol addictions can be placed for up to 15 days for detoxification, stabilization and assessment.

Last month, the B.C. Coroners Service reported 7,024 illicit-drug overdose deaths in the province since a public-health emergency was declared in April 2016.

Eighteen deaths in youths younger than age 19 were ruled illicit drug toxicity deaths last year, 13 in 2019, and 18 in 2018. This year so far, the coroners service has reported four deaths in those under age 19.

So far in 2021, 86 per cent of illicit drug toxicity deaths have occurred indoor, 56 per cent in private residences.

A proposed amendment to the Mental Health Act to allow doctors to keep youth age 19 and younger in hospital up to seven days for stabilization following an overdose is under review after failing to pass in the legislature.

It was opposed by the B.C. Greens, while B.C.’s chief coroner and the ­province’s child watchdog also voiced concerns, ­citing ­inadvertent harm caused by ­involuntary treatment.

Premier John Horgan has said he hopes revamped legislation will return this year.

Shirley Bond, interim leader of the B.C. Liberals, said nothing has been said about Bill 22 since it failed to pass. “And perhaps that isn’t the only answer … but let’s have the conversation. Let’s do the work that’s necessary.”

“Every month, we learn about a tragic number of deaths,” said Bond. “This is just, you know, so difficult to even talk about when you think about a 12-year-old losing her life.”

Bond acknowledged allocations in the budget for mental health and addictions but said more needs to be done, “and it needs to be done in a comprehensive overarching way.”

Leslie McBain, Pender-based co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, called Allayah’s death a “tragedy beyond measure.”

“Losing anyone is tragic and difficult, but losing a 12-year-old child with so much potential and so many years left is devastating,” said McBain.

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