British Columbia

'Beautiful boy' slipped between health-care cracks, father says after B.C. inquest

The parents of a Victoria-area teen who died of a drug overdose say they don't want other families to experience the trauma of having a child slip out of their caring hands.

Testimony took place at coroner's inquest into the death of 16-year-old Elliot Eurchuk

16-year-old Elliot Eurchuk was found unresponsive in his bedroom on April 20, 2018, and the coroner's jury has heard he died of a drug overdose. His parents Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuck say his drug use started after he was prescribed opioids for four surgical procedures in one year. (The Canadian Press/Rachel Staples)

The parents of a Victoria-area teen who died of a drug overdose say they don't want other families to experience the trauma of having a child slip their caring hands.

Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk made the comments Wednesday at the conclusion of a British Columbia coroner's inquest into the overdose death last year of 16-year-old Elliot Eurchuk. The jury was scheduled to begin deliberations Thursday.

"We don't want other children to navigate our community in a very difficult, vulnerable state and fall through the cracks like Elliot did," said Brock Eurchuk outside of the inquest. "I'll be dealing with my failures as Elliot's father for the rest of my life."

Eurchuk was found unresponsive in his bedroom on April 20, 2018. He died of an illicit drug overdose.

Privacy laws too restrictive: parents

The BC Coroners Service called the inquest saying the public has an interest in hearing the circumstances of the teen's death, and that a jury would have the opportunity to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.

Eurchuk's parents testified about their willingness to do whatever it took to help their son, but said privacy laws restricted them from receiving medical information to address his addiction troubles.

Rachel Staples told the inquest about efforts to help their son recover from serious sports injuries that resulted in him becoming addicted to pain medications and eventually street drugs.

Staples, a dentist, said the family was prepared to spend "a million dollars," but the inquest heard from doctors that the teen initially denied abusing drugs.

It wasn't until February 2018 when he revived from an overdose of street drugs while in hospital that Eurchuk started speaking more openly with doctors about drug use, but he didn't want his parents to know, the inquest heard.

"It was clear Elliot was incapable of making a healthy decision," his father said. "The information we needed to catch Elliot as he was falling was not provided to us. Those are all the pieces to the puzzle in Elliot's death, who was a beautiful boy."

Staples said she's received countless messages from people across Canada concerned that parents are prevented from helping children in the deepest hour of need due to privacy laws.

"They're horrified that a child can block information," she said outside the inquest.

Pediatrician's testimony

The inquest heard Wednesday from a Kelowna pediatrician who treats children and youth struggling with substance abuse issues. Dr. Tom Warshawski said he supports placing young people in treatment facilities against their will if they've suffered an overdose.

He described an overdose as a life-and-death situation where a young person's brain and actions are being controlled by the potentially deadly drugs.

Warshawski said that committing young people to secure treatment facilities under B.C.'s Mental Health Act, where they can't leave for a time period of about one week, allows doctors to help clean the drugs out of their systems and open their minds to the possibility of future treatment.

"It's not a panacea," he said. "It's not a guarantee of success. I think it's an important tool that needs to be looked at. The choice is involuntary (treatment) versus continued life-threatening behaviour."

Eurchuk died about two months after he was forcefully admitted under the Mental Health Act to a Victoria youth treatment ward for a week-long stay.

'At some point you have to let them go'

Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s former provincial health officer, said he is not a supporter of involuntary care for youths with drug issues. Kendall told the inquest Wednesday that he prefers voluntary programs that include follow-up counselling after youths are discharged.

He said there is not enough evidence available showing that involuntary treatment programs work.

"I really sympathize with the parents," said Kendall. "I fully understand the desire to help rescue children. But the worst case is you are incarcerating someone who doesn't want treatment. At some point you have to let them go."

The inquest heard Eurchuk's parents placed their son in secure care when he overdosed on illicit drugs at the hospital. At the time, he was undergoing treatment for a blood infection that is common to intravenous drug users.

Staples said the move only further alienated their son from the parents because he felt they betrayed him.

Warshawski said patient confidentiality is an important issue, but when it involves young people and it is life-threatening, parents should know.

"Opioid overdose is at the extreme end of risk of death, and certainly we would disclose," he said.

Warshawski called the acceptance of voluntary youth drug treatment the "best possible situation." But he said current waits times of up to twelve weeks for treatment beds for youth in B.C. is "scandalous."

He said there is little geographical co-ordination between health officials about available beds for young people, meaning a teen in Kelowna volunteering for drug treatment could be denied immediate help even if there is an available bed at a facility in North Vancouver or Prince George.

The B.C. government announced Wednesday its "Pathway to Hope" program of improved access to services for people experiencing mental health and addictions challenges.

The eight-day inquest heard from more than 40 witnesses.


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