Regulations that allow children to direct their own medical care can make it difficult for parents to help when a child is at risk of abusing or becoming addicted to opioids, jurors at a Victoria inquest heard on Monday.
“I don’t know how a child whose brain is awash in opioids and clearly going down a path of substance abuse can possibly make a rational decision about his own health care,” Rachel Staples told an inquest yesterday.
Ms. Staples, a dentist, was the first witness in an inquest that began on Monday to look into the death of her son, Elliot Eurchuk, who was 16 when he died of a drug overdose in Victoria.
The inquest, expected to last at least eight days and involve more than 30 witnesses, comes amid an a continuing public-health emergency in British Columbia and an opioid-overdose crisis that affects families, first responders and health-care systems across the country.
As well as issues of consent, the inquest is expected to touch on the prescribing of opioids by medical professionals, pain control and treatment options available for people who develop a substance-use disorders.
The inquest is expected to examine prescribing practices for opioids and regulations related to minors’ consent to medical treatment.
Ms. Staples told the inquest that her son had suffered several serious sports injuries and surgeries which resulted in him becoming addicted to pain medications and eventually street drugs.
She asked repeatedly for medical information, including the results of random drug tests related to her son, but got answers only when she obtained his medical records after his death.
She was shocked in 2016 to discover that her son had sedation drugs from her dental office stashed in his bedroom. Back then, she suspected her son was perhaps smoking marijuana, but she had no idea about other drugs.
The mother said she watched him slide over three years from an engaged student and talented athlete to drug-sick teen who couldn’t take a family bike ride without stopping to vomit due to his withdrawal symptoms.
"I don’t think anyone can understand the desperation,'' Ms. Staples said, wiping tears from her face.
When Mr. Eurchuk was admitted to hospital for a blood infection, which a doctor suggested was a condition suffered by intravenous drug users, health officials also told the family that many details of their son’s medical information were confidential, Ms. Staples said.
She said she told a medical official the family was considering tricking Mr. Eurchuk into entering a treatment facility in the United States, but she was informed that would be breaking the law.
In the months before his death, she said the family called police to have Mr. Eurchuk apprehended under B.C.'s Mental Health Act, which allows such detentions if there is concern the person could harm themselves or others.
Ms. Staples said that move was a failure. She said the family was not provided with any information about his condition or the treatment he received, and when he was discharged he accused his parents of betrayal.
Ms. Staples also raised questions about how the local school district handles students who may get involved in drug issues, saying that her efforts to get help from school administrators at Oak Bay High School were unsuccessful.
Before his death, Mr. Eurchuk had been expelled from school over allegations that he was seeking to buy and sell drugs.
School officials did not seem concerned with factors that may have contributed to her son’s drug issues, Ms. Staples said, including her treatment for breast cancer which saw the family, including two younger sons, temporarily move in with her parents.
A lawyer for the provincial Health Ministry questioned Ms. Staples about drugs she had prescribed to her son, including drugs for skin conditions, and raised the possibility that her son’s use of illicit drugs may have been recreational, rather than for pain control, as Ms. Staples suggested.
Ms. Staples agreed that some of her son’s drug use may have started as recreational, but that it was exacerbated by the circumstances, including pain from repeated surgeries.
Under B.C.’s Infants Act, children under 19 can consent to medical care if they are deemed to understand the risks and benefits and a health-care provider has made “reasonable efforts” to determine whether the treatment is in the minor’s best interests.
– With a report from The Canadian Press