Jurors in a recent coroner’s inquest into the overdose death of a Victoria teen have called on the B.C. government to provide youth with long-term residential substance use disorder treatment facilities throughout the province after the boy’s parents described a system that left them struggling to find the help they needed.
The recommendation highlights gaps in care that have been flagged previously by British Columbia’s independent children’s watchdog and as the province continues to grapple with record numbers of overdose deaths since a public-health emergency was declared in 2016.
Rachel Staples said she hoped the province would act on the recommendation, saying she ran into multiple barriers when trying to arrange treatment for her son, Elliot Eurchuk.
One treatment facility would only take patients who were 19 or older and others had waiting lists of up to a year, Ms. Staples said.
One facility she contacted told her it couldn’t treat her son because it lacked capacity – in terms of staff and services – to address his suspected opioid use, Ms. Staples, a Victoria dentist, said on Monday.
“They were very, very helpful but they said because it was opioids, they couldn’t intake Elliot, because that was beyond what they were capable of doing there,” Ms. Staples said.
Elliot Eurchuk died of a drug overdose on April 20, 2018, at the age of 16. His parents pushed for an inquest, saying provincial legislation that allows minors to keep their health-care details private meant they didn’t have a full picture of their son’s problematic drug use, which they linked to a series of sports injuries and related surgeries that resulted in at least one prescription for opioids.
The province announced the inquest in March. It was held in Victoria in June, with a five-member jury hearing from more than 40 witnesses, including Elliot’s parents, doctors, police officers and a toxicologist.
The jury released its findings last week, concluding the death was accidental and resulted from mixed intoxication with fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
The jury made seven recommendations, including that the province “streamline and co-ordinate access” to youth treatment beds and provide more long-term residential facilities throughout the province.
In a 2016 report, former Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond described a “piecemeal” service system for youth with substance use problems in B.C., citing lengthy wait times and spotty service in some regions.
In that report – based on a five-tier model that ranks facilities from the lowest to highest needs and support – she found there were only 24 beds in the province categorized as “Tier 4,” which provides specialized day and residential services for substance use, including detox and counselling. At that time, she wrote, B.C. had no Tier 5 service, which provides residential programs for people diagnosed with “a complex mix of substance use and mental-health challenges.”
The province is reviewing the recommendations from the Coroner’s Inquest.
Last week, the government announced a new mental health and addictions program, Pathway to Hope. It includes new counselling teams in schools and transition programs designed for children and youth who have been treated in hospital for mental health and/or substance-use concerns, a government spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
Plans are also under way for a new 20-bed youth treatment facility in Chilliwack expected to open next year, the government said.
The Ministry was not immediately able to confirm the number of Tier 5 beds and current waiting times.
Jan Mahoney, of Saanich, welcomed the recommendation for streamlined access and more long-term treatment facilities.
Her son, Michael Mahoney, died of an overdose in December of 2018 at the age of 21. Before he died, he had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, was using illicit drugs and had been in and out of hospital, she said.
Ms. Mahoney says she spent four months before her son died trying to arrange treatment for him and ran into waiting lists and other obstacles, including requests for psychiatric assessments – which meant more delays – and a lack of facilities designed to treat young people who have both mental health and substance-use concerns.
“That [coroner’s inquest] recommendation is sorely, sorely needed,” Ms. Mahoney said, adding that at least one facility said it was prepared to treat his mental-health issues but not his substance use.
“He definitely needed a facility that would treat his mental-health disorder in combination with treating his substance use,” she said.