The parents of an 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 from their caring hands.
Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk made the comments Wednesday at the conclusion of a B.C. coroner’s inquest into the overdose death 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.”
After struggling with drug addiction for months, Elliot died in his bedroom with a fatal combination of drugs in his system on April, 20, 2018. The inquest is reviewing the circumstances leading up to the teen’s death and ends with the jury making recommendations to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.
Elliot’s mother, told the jury how her son’s drug issues started after he was prescribed pain medication for a series of surgeries. Staples and her husband believe that medical privacy laws were a barrier to getting their son the treatment he needed.
Experts testifying Wednesday discussed the ethics of admitting a child with opioid addictions to involuntary care.
Kelowna pediatrician Tom Warshawski told the jury how opioid-users in today’s drug climate are at a “high risk of imminent death.”
“Nowadays all bets are off,” he said. “You always have to be prepared for an overdose, full stop. The landscape has totally changed.”
Elliot was forcefully admitted to a psychiatric ward in Victoria for one week following a non-fatal overdose about two months before he died – something Elliot saw as a betrayal, according to testimony from Staples on the first day of the inquest.
But Warshawski said that after an overdose, a person’s capacity is diminished, rendering them, at least temporarily unable to make decisions about their own care. He said compulsory treatment is sometimes necessary for youth with addictions – citing the extremely high death rates from opioid use as a strong enough reason to disregard the wishes of the youth in question.
As it stands, the B.C. Mental Health Act allows involuntary hospital admissions or short periods of time, with the possibility of extension under a doctor’s order. But Warshawski said the same option should be available for long-term secure treatment facilities for uncooperative youth.
Island Health counsel asked him: “If a person overdoses on opioids, they are automatically not competent?”
“I would say they are automatically not competent for a period of time,” Warshawski responded. “Effects of overdose are comparable to a serious head injury … in no way are they competent to make a significant life and death decision for a while after that event.
“It has to be looked at on a case by case basis…”
Dr. Alice Virani, director of ethics for the Provincial Health Services Authority, took the stand late Wednesday morning.
She said autonomy is a key principle of bioethics but the lines can get blurred when it comes to children.
“Every situation is going to be different and context specific,” she said. “Capacity isn’t there or not there, it is decision specific. It can fluctuate over time.
“In relation to privacy, I think it does get quite complicated. We can’t just not do anything…inaction has consequence too. We are in a difficult situation where you have to act in the face of lack of good evidence”
The eight-day inquest heard from more than 40 witnesses.
– with files from Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press