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Victoria teen's accidental overdose started with prescription drugs, parents say

Last Updated Apr 21, 2018 at 7:40 pm EDT

Elliot Eurchuk poses in this undated family handout photo. The parents of a Victoria teen who died from an accidental overdose yesterday say they felt trapped by a medical system that didn't give them access to their son's painkiller use. Sixteen-year-old Elliot Eurchuk at his home after taking street drugs his parents believe he was using to help him sleep. His parents Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuck say his drug use started after he was prescribed opioids for four surgical procedures in the last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Rachel Staples

VICTORIA – The parents of a Victoria teen who died Friday from an accidental overdose say they felt trapped by a medical system that didn’t give them a say in their son’s painkiller prescriptions.

Sixteen-year-old Elliot Eurchuk, whom his parents described as a kind and funny athlete, died at his home after taking street drugs they believe he was using to help him sleep.

Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk say their son’s drug use started after he was prescribed opioids for four surgical procedures last year, even though they had requested alternative treatments.

Two surgeries treated his fractured jaw, which he broke on a soccer field, and two others were for shoulder reconstructions from another sports injury.

In February, Elliot was in hospital again for three weeks with an infection.

His parents say they again asked for alternatives to opioids, and for access to his medical records when he overdosed after leaving the hospital on a day pass. They say they were told Elliot was old enough to make his own medical decisions.

In British Columbia, the Infants Act says children under 19 may consent to a medical treatment on their own under certain conditions: the health-care provider is sure the treatment is in the child’s best interest, and the child understands the potential risks and benefits.

It’s up to the health-care provider to assess and ensure the child’s understanding of the treatment.

The concept of maturity has generally replaced chronological age in laws across the country, according to the Canadian Medical Protective Association.

Only Quebec has established a fixed age of consent at 14, below which the consent of a parent or guardian is required for treatment, the association said on its website.

Staples and Eurchuck believe their son started buying street drugs, which were marketed as pharmaceutical-grade pills, in the five-month period between two surgeries, when he experienced chronic and acute pain.

His father said he wants to dispel any myth that kids who use drugs are “bad.

“My son wasn’t a perfect kid, but he was a kind, gentle, personable boy who had a really good future ahead of him,” Eurchuk said.

Elliot was a clever kid with an interest in chemistry, his father said, but he had a “fatal misunderstanding” that he had control over what was going into his body.

His son was looking forward to getting back into hiking, strength training and going back to school in the fall, after a difficult year, Eurchuk said.

Staples described her son as a funny kid who loved reading and puns, rugby, soccer, boxing and hiking.

She said she’d like to see the system change to give parents more agency in decisions about their children’s health.

“You can’t know what you’re doing when you have an addicted brain, and there’s no way a child should be making their own medical decisions when they’re in that state,” Staples said.

Island Health said it will conduct a review of the care Eurchuk received in the health authority’s facilities.

“At Island Health our hearts are broken for the family and friends of this young man,” spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said in a statement.

“As his family is bravely speaking about the dangers of illicit drugs, we remind everyone: don’t use alone, have a naloxone kit and be trained to use it.”

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed it is in the “very early” stages of investigating the death of a male teen from Victoria.

Oak Bay High School, which Elliot attended in addition to Mount Douglas Secondary School, issued a notice of his death to parents.

The school district’s critical response team was at the school Friday and will be on site next week to provide additional counselling support for students, according to an email shared by one of the parents.

A memorial event for Elliot will be held later in the week.