An inquest that could change the handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis went ahead in Victoria this week.
With a box of tissues on every table, the small University of Victoria’s dispute resolution room was nearly at capacity for the coroner’s inquest into the overdose death of Greater Victoria teenager Elliot Eurchuk, who died at 16 from a drug overdose.
The inquest will review the circumstances leading up to the teen’s death and explore opportunities for the jury to make recommendations to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.
From the outside, the Oak Bay family appeared to have it all: Mother, Rachel Staples is a successful dentist and husband Brock Eurchuk, a businessman. Elliot was one of three healthy boys who liked sports and the outdoors.
But the first day of the coroner’s inquest paints a picture of an imploding family dynamic. Between moving homes, the breakdown of a business partnership, Staples’ breast cancer diagnosis and Elliot’s descent into drug addiction, the family was facing enormous battles.
On Monday morning Staples told the five-person jury how she discovered her son unresponsive in bed at the family’s home on April 20, 2018. That morning, when she noted the alarm on the front door was disabled, she immediately panicked. She went to Elliot’s room and discovered him lying sideways on his bed with his head to the side.
She ran, screaming, to her bedroom closet where she kept naloxone, which she administered into his thigh.
“I knew he was gone,” Staples said through tears. “But when [my husband] came into the room I wanted him to know we tried everything we could to revive him.”
It was too late. Elliot had died with a combination of drugs – including cocaine and fentanyl – in his system.
Staples described how, in the years leading to his death, her “caring, witty, spunky” son changed from an introverted book worm to a withdrawn and secretive teenager, coping with chronic pain and self-medicating with drugs.
After catching her son using a vaporizer, Staples searched his room. She found Ativan, Xanax, Diazepam and Triazolam – drugs she later realized Elliot had stolen from a locked location in her dental office. According to records, she also found Dilaudid (hydromorphone) tablets – or opioid analgesics.
That was before Elliot was prescribed opioid pain-killers following surgeries to his jaw and shoulder and while records presented in the first day of the inquest suggest the teen was using opioids before they were prescribed, Staples believes the 60-days of Dilaudid tablets he was prescribed post-surgery solidified her son’s addiction.
“That’s a huge dose for a young brain,” Staples said. “I don’t know how you could go away not being addicted to opioids after that.”
Staples believes her son was self-medicating to deal with chronic pain and the related sleeplessness – which she believed was causing him a great deal of anxiety, but she says as his substance-use dependency grew, she and her husband Brock were left in the dark.
They attempted to get access to his health records, but were told that Elliot had requested confidentiality. Based on the Infants Act – the 16-year-old’s request was honoured by doctors.
Without confirmation that he was using opioids, Staples was unable to confirm her suspicions of Elliot’s drug use – and Brock, she says, was in adamant denial. Staples said the inability to make decisions about her son’s health care, and even have knowledge of what drugs were in his system, was detrimental to the family’s approach.
In fact their first clear insight into Elliot’s addiction wasn’t until winter, 2018, after he overdosed in the hospital and was saved by Naloxone – a synthetic drug that blocks opiate receptors.
Staples hopes the inquest into her son’s death will change families’ right to information.
“After his death I obtained all of his records from the hospital and reading through those reports… I thought, had one doctor been honest with us, Elliot would still be here,” Staples said. “I don’t know how a child whose brain is washed in opioids and clearly going down the path of substance use can possibly make a rational decision about his own health care.”
As the inquest continues, the jury will hear from family members, friends and neighbours, toxicology and pathology experts as well as members of the Oak Bay and Saanich police departments involved in Elliot’s case.