Rachel Staples had just put on the coffee on the morning of April 20 last year when she knew something was wrong, she told a coroners inquest on Monday.
At the Oak Bay home she shares with husband Brock Eurchuk, she raced to the room of her eldest of three sons, Elliot, 16.
“He was still dressed in his robe and lying sideways on his bed,” said Staples. “He was clearly gone but I didn’t know for how long.” She ran for the vials of an opioid-overdose reversing drug she had stocked in case of a day like this. She ran back down the hall. She screamed for help.
“I pumped the naloxone into his thigh, but I know he was gone. When Brock came into the room I wanted to make sure that he knew we tried everything to revive our son.” She and Brock dragged his body off the bed to the floor and Staples started CPR. “But he was long gone.”
Presiding coroner Michael Egilson, chair of the Child Death Review Unit for Office of the Chief Coroner, and a five-person jury will hear evidence from 40 witnesses scheduled over eight days in the dispute resolution room at the University of Victoria.
The jury is tasked with making recommendations to prevent deaths in similar circumstances.
Coroner’s counsel John Orr instructed jurors to consider how Elliot died, from drug poisoning or overdose. The question to bear in mind, said Orr, is “whether or not it was an accidental or intentional act.”
Staples was the first witness.
Over hours of testimony, she told the jury about a family and marriage thrown into chaos.
Staples was dealing with the collapse of a long-time business partnership and then an aggressive breast cancer for which she had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation starting in 2016. The couple also moved.
Staples traced the days from when her husband first discovered Elliot was experimenting with drugs by using marijuana to when she said he was overprescribed opioids for four sports-injury-related surgeries from December 2016 through October 2017, fuelling substance abuse and use of street drugs.
“I don’t think anyone can understand the desperation,” Staples said of watching her son go down the path of addiction.
Staples said she watched her beautiful, intelligent, athletic son almost die in hospital from an overdose, be admitted to a pediatric psychiatric ward that proved “inhumane,” and throwing up as he tried to withdraw from his drug dependancy.
Upon finding drugs in Elliot’s bedroom — she would later learn some of them were stolen from her dental office — she went to Oak Bay High School to seek help. She said she felt “betrayed” because the school seemed more interested in learning if Elliot was selling drugs.
Staples later said that with the drugs remaining in her office and those she found in Elliot’s room, all were accounted for, and none were taken or distributed.
Elliot was suspended and moved to Mount Douglas Secondary School.
In late January 2018 Elliot was admitted to hospital for a blood infection that a doctor said was suffered by intravenous drug users. The doctor allowed Elliot to keep his medical records confidential, said Staples.
She said doctors cited the B.C. Infants Act for denying them access to their son’s medical information, at Elliot’s request.
Staples said she and her husband begged for drug test results. “I wanted to help my son,” said Staples. “I wanted our family on the same page so we had a chance at saving our boy. ...
“Had one doctor been honest with us Elliot would very likely not be dead.”
In the weeks before his death, Staples saw her son being more positive “but I also saw a boy who needed opioids in his system.” Suffering withdrawal, Elliot would vomit in the bathroom.
The inquest continues Tuesday.