'I've done my best': Parents testify at fatality inquiry for Edmonton-based soldier

The parents of an Edmonton-based military lieutenant who died of a drug overdose in October 2012 testified Monday at the public fatality inquiry they fought years to get.

Parents hope recommendations include earlier intervention and safeguards against stockpiling opioids

After his daughter died of a drug overdose, Rick Rogers spent months and thousands of dollars preparing for the inquiry into her death. 1:10

The parents of an Edmonton-based military lieutenant who died of a drug overdose in October 2012 testified Monday at the public fatality inquiry they spent years fighting to get.

Lt. Shawna Rogers, 27, was found dead in her Edmonton apartment in October 2012, after being prescribed various opioids over several years to manage back pain.

On Monday, Rogers's mother Ellen told court her daughter's pain became so excruciating she could barely manage basic day-to-day tasks such as getting out of bed or getting dressed. She would cry in the bathroom while trying to have a bowel movement, her mother said.

Still, Ellen, a retired nurse, was shocked when she saw the high dosage of the opioid hydromorphone her daughter was on. She wrote a letter to her daughter's health-care providers but doesn't know what became of it. 

Testimony during the inquiry, now in its second week, has revealed Rogers was prescribed a variety of opioid medications, one at a time, as she awaited surgery.

Court has heard her physician unsuccessfully tried to wean her off the drugs when she showed signs of "drug-seeking behaviour."

But testimony also suggested Rogers may have stockpiled older prescriptions and eventually turned to street drugs as her mental health deteriorated.

Court also heard repeatedly that Rogers feared what her temporary medical disability status would mean for her career, especially if it became permanent. That happened in August 2012, two months before Rogers died. Her parents believe she took her own life.

Safeguards against stockpiling

On Monday, Rogers's father Rick told the court that his family has never been able to find out which health-care professional delivered news of his daughter's permanent disability status two months before her death. 

"A lot more went on then we knew about," said Rick Rogers, who lives in Ontario, outside court. "She lied a fair bit to get around the system ... There were still things done wrong. But not as wrong as we had thought."

Patients being prescribed a new opioid medication should be required to return any remaining drugs from an old prescription "so they can't stockpile them," he said.

The inquiry can't assign blame but Judge Susan Richardson can include general recommendations in a report expected to be submitted to Alberta's solicitor general in three months.

Rogers's mother said she hopes it will also include recommendations for earlier interventions to prevent a patient "from spiralling downward before they get so far down that they can't come back up."

In her final submission to the court, her lower lip quivering as her husband wiped his eyes, Ellen thanked the inquiry.

She also shared memories of her daughter. Shawna loved playing guitar and travelling, she said, and her friends still meet her parents to celebrate her birthday every year.

After graduating from university, Shawna fulfilled her dream of joining the Canadian Armed Forces, Ellen said.

While the inquiry can't make specific recommendations for the military, Shawna's parents are still hopeful that it will provide insights that will benefit others in the future.

"I've done my best," Rick said. "And that's what I promised her on her grave. So hopefully something comes of it. All I want is one person to survive ... And if the judge can come up with different ways to do that then all the power to her."