Things were getting better.
Or that’s how it seemed to Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk, whose 16-year-old son, Elliot Eurchuk, died last month of a drug overdose in Victoria. In the days before he died, Elliot was reading, working out and talking about hiking the West Coast Trail with friends.
But on Friday, April 20, his parents found him unresponsive in his bed in the family home. Their panicked efforts to revive him didn’t work. Subsequent toxicology tests showed fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine in his system, Mr. Eurchuk says. The couple believe their son – who’d been struggling over the preceding two years with a string of injuries for which he had been prescribed opioids for pain – took illicit drugs to help him sleep.
Now, the grieving parents are speaking out, saying provincial legislation allowed Elliot to hide his problematic substance use from them and hampered their efforts to help. Their pleas – coming amid an ongoing public-health emergency in British Columbia that has resulted in more than 1,400 people dying from suspected illicit drug overdoses last year alone – underscore the challenges of balancing young people’s rights to privacy with parents’ desperate wishes to keep them safe.
“It is unreasonable to weigh a child’s right to privacy as paramount in instances where lethal, high-risk behaviour is involved,” Mr. Eurchuk says.
The couple have asked B.C. to amend legislation to recognize that youth exhibiting “at-risk” behaviour may be incapable of making healthy decisions.
Elliot’s problems began with a shoulder injury in 2016. He had four surgeries in less than a year: two operations on his shoulder and two for a fractured jaw resulting from what his parents say was a sucker punch in a soccer game.
His parents say he was prescribed opioids for pain, despite them voicing their concerns about potential addiction.
In February of this year, he was back in the hospital with a blood infection. He left the hospital on a day pass and after he returned to hospital, was found unresponsive, lips blue, in his room by hospital staff.
When Elliot’s parents heard a doctor tell their son he’d been treated with naloxone, a drug used to treat opioid overdoses, they sought more information.
“So, the hospital knows this young man is using opiates and is getting them on the street – that’s in his file, the pediatrician is aware of that – we’re not aware of that as parents,” Mr. Eurchuk says.
In B.C., the Infants Care Act allows teens under 19 to make their own medical decisions, as long as they have a doctor’s consent.
Across the country, the legal age of majority has become largely irrelevant in determining when a young person may consent to medical treatments, the Canadian Medical Protective Association, a legal advisory group for physicians, says on its website.
The concept of maturity has replaced chronological age, except in Quebec, where the age of consent is 14 years or older, the group adds.
In a letter sent to provincial officials on May 22 – a month after his son’s death – Mr. Eurchuk says Elliot was discharged from hospital 48 hours after that February incident, despite his parents’ worries that they weren’t equipped to manage their son’s drug use.
“Provincial law and hospital policy facilitated Elliot blocking his medical records, medical-test results and treatment plan from us,” Mr. Eurchuk said in the letter.
“The prescribed use of opiates for Elliot’s surgeries was excessive.”
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix called Elliot’s case “incredibly tragic” and said it is under review by the local-health authority.
“But we’re absolutely listening to families and everyone else about lessons to be learned from this case,” Mr. Dix said in an interview on Thursday following a news conference in Vancouver on an unrelated issue.
“The review is ongoing and we’re listening to both the family and the health authority and everyone else to make sure that if changes are required in the way that we treat people then they’re the right changes,” he added.
Along with her husband, Dr. Staples, a Victoria dentist, is pushing for legislative changes, including a proposed Safe Care Act.
The act, a private member’s bill introduced in 2017, would allow minors to be placed in a secure setting for a short time to stabilize their physical and mental health.
When the bill was introduced last year, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Bernard Richard, cautioned against seeking a short-term fix and urged the province to address “significant weakness” flagged in successive reports by his office: the lack supports and services for children and youth in B.C.
With a file from Ian Bailey