The parents of a Victoria teen who died from an accidental overdose Friday are calling for changes to the laws governing youth health care.
Elliot Eurchuk, 16, died at his home on Friday. His parents, Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk, believe he took street drugs to help him sleep.
Elliot had been battling drug dependency after he was prescribed opioids for four major surgeries in 2017, including two for a fractured jaw and two shoulder reconstructions as a result of sports injuries. When his prescriptions of the highly addictive opioids ran out, he turned to street drugs for relief. He tried to hide the addiction from his parents, and was successful for awhile as he was shielded by the law.
The Infants Act states that children under 19 years of age may consent to a medical treatment on their own as long as the health care provider is sure that the treatment is in the child’s best interest, and that the child understands the risks and benefits of the treatment.
“Kids try to make these decisions for themselves. If they don’t want the help, there is nothing in our legal system that allows us as parents to get them the help they need,” said Staples.
“That kind of policy basically knocks parents to their knees in their efforts to help their children. In our son’s case it ultimately led to his death because we had no control over his medical direction.”
Staples and her husband attempted to get access to Elliot’s health records after he had been in and out of hospital with serious infections. They were told that Elliot did not want them to know what was going on. Due to the Infants Act, doctors honoured Elliot’s wishes and told the parents nothing. An event in early February changed that.
Elliot was admitted to the hospital on Jan. 31 with a blood infection, which had him in the hospital for 26 days to get multiple rounds of IV antibiotics. On Feb. 9, Elliot was given a day pass. His dad took him to meet some friends for a movie and picked him up right afterwards to take him back to the hospital. At some point between drop off and pick up, Elliot got some opioids.
He was found by the medical team at the hospital early the next morning, not breathing and with blue lips. They administered naloxone and saved Elliot’s life. It was at this point that his parents overheard a doctor talking to Elliot about naloxone and they got their first insight into what was happening with him.
“Even then it wasn’t a direct conversation about what he had taken,” said Staples. “I’m a health care provider, I know what naloxone is. That was their only way of telling us that Elliot was using opioids from the streets.”
Staples and Eurchuk want to be clear that they are not blaming individuals, it is the system they feel needs to be changed. The Infants Act should be altered to allow parents to play a role in their child’s health care. If youth are displaying at-risk behaviour, Staples and Eurchuk think parents should be told about what is happening and have a say in their child’s medical treatment.
“When a parent suggests that their child is not capable of making responsible medical decisions I think that needs to override [the child’s] desires,” said Staples.
They are also calling for alternatives to opioids in pain management.
“I just don’t understand why opiates are the first line of approach for pain and why they are so widely prescribed when they are so addictive. There has got to be something else, particularly when you are dousing a young developing brain in opioids.” said Staples. “After his surgeries, Elliot came home with a prescription, like a bucket full of opioids. Yes, his surgery was extremely painful, and yes it is awful for the short-term but the long-term ramifications of opioids is just too risky.”
The final message that Elliot’s parents want to get out, is for kids to make sure that if they are going to experiment, they don’t do it alone.
“Elliot was alone,” said Staples.
The family is trying to cope and plan a funeral in an age where word travels instantly – they only had three hours between finding their son’s body and getting calls from the school district and media.
“We are putting on a face for these media interviews but when we wake up in the morning, we are broken. Completely broken. We wake up multiple times a night gasping for breath, thinking about our son’s heartbeat stopping,” said Eurchuk.
Resources are available for those affected by or struggling to cope with the loss.
Kids Help Phone offers 24/7 counselling online at kidshelpphone.ca or by phone 1-800-668-6868.
The 24-hour Vancouver Island Crisis Line is an Island Health contracted service offers text 250-800-3806, online chat vicrisis.ca and phone services 1-888-494-3888.
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