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'His future was stolen': Ottawa mother who lost son warning about deadly designer drugs

An Ottawa mother is taking the tragic loss of her son and turning it into purpose, warning others of the dangers of designer drugs.

Natalie Bergin's son William died in April 2022 from what police ruled was an accidental overdose of a synthetic drug – a death that came with heartache and questions.

Bergin is sharing her story to warn of the danger of designer drugs, substances that are designed to mimic the effects of party drugs that are often banned. But the synthetic chemistry can be lethal.

Bergin says the drugs he took were mislabelled as a drug William took for anxiety. He started taking Xanax two weeks before his death, according to his mother. 

"It was Flubromazolam marked Xanax so he was poisoned," she said.

"And he took something that he didn't know was going to kill him."

The drug, according to experts, is also not responsive to Naloxone kits like fentanyl.

William was a student at Algonquin College, studying to be a pilot.

"I loved William for his honesty. And his big heart. And he loved that we looked so much alike and that we were a lot alike," Bergin told CTV Morning Live on Monday.

"His future was stolen."

The day of William's death still haunts Bergin to this day.

"I opened the door and he looked like he was sleeping. He was in a position like this with the blankets tightly pulled up and he wasn't answering. I'm like William... William. And I just pull back the covers and found him gone and he just didn't look anything like him," Bergin recalled.

The autopsy report suggests he had been gone for hours. William's entire family was left stunned and grief-stricken, including Maggie, the family dog who kept looking for her late friend.

"I made the mistake one time of saying his name and she got up and barked and started looking for him," she said.

Determined to get more details on his death, his mother discovered the toxicology report pointed to a deadly designer drug.

Showing the results of the coroner's report, there was also cocaine in his system, but that isn't what likely killed him.

Bergin, who works as a mental health social worker, said William was knowledgeable about drugs on the street and its dangers.

Bergin feels that the investigation treated her son as an abuser of substances, instead of a victim of something tainted.

"When the police came to my house, it felt like William's life didn't matter," she said.

"He was just another number to them, but that's not who he was."

CTV Morning Live reached out to police for comment. The Ottawa Police Service declined to participate in the special report, but did offer William's family their condolenses.

"You don't need a lot of material for it to be fatal," said William Ogilvie, a biopharmaceutical professor at the University of Ottawa.

Ogilvie says historically, designer drugs have been a way to escape jail time. The Criminal Code, he says, is so specific to the chemistry of illegal substances that any version that escapes the precise formula would not be deemed illegal.

"In the 1970's, there were some wise-guys in California that figured out if you could change a couple of atoms in the structure of a drug that you would now have something that's totally legal to make, to possess or to use," Ogilvie said.

Ogilvie says the only safe drugs are those that are regulated through companies and pharmacies.

"It's a Wild West buyer beware situation. And it's different than buying other kinds of things," he said.

But for a mother missing her son, the Wild West should come with consequences for taking a life.

Her mission is to warn other as she still seeks justice for William.

"I'm still pushing and I'm not going away," she said.

Bergin and her family have started the William Bernard Memorial Award for students in the Aviation Management program at Algonquin College. The award is aimed towards students of lower incomes in their second year to pay for their commercial flying licences.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Stefan Keyes Top Stories

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