The heroin overdose death of Canadian teenager Eliot Eurchuk has intensified conversations about teen overdose. Eurchuk died from a drug overdose when he used heroin laced with fentanyl that he had purchased online. The 16-year-old high school student was found dead on April 20, 2018, and multiple drugs were found in his system. The young man first began using opioids after sports-related injuries led to surgery and his post-surgery pain was managed with prescription opioids. Opioids are highly addictive and can lead to prolonged substance abuse even when taken as prescribed.
Research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that heroin is the leading cause of opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations. Heroin is regularly used as a replacement for prescription opioids or used in conjunction with opioids. As in Eurchuk’s case, the use of heroin for pain relief can have fatal consequences.
In Canada, patient rights vary based on their ability to give educated consent to medical decisions. If people under the age of 19 provide evidence that they are capable of providing consent, their decisions about treatment are final. Because of the laws in Euruck’s province, his parents were prohibited from gaining in-depth information into the nature of his prescription drug use and other aspects of his treatment. They claim that this was a crippling dynamic that kept them from providing their son with essential care and support.
In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) enacted in 1996 provides general guidelines for the release of medical information. HIPAA regulations include some scenarios in which a minor’s medical records would be inaccessible to their parents. Standards for the release of these records could be influenced by specific state laws, court-appointed authorities or parental consent for health care confidentiality. It is possible that even adolescent drug use or substance abuse could be concealed from parents by these privacy laws and conditions.
When Opioids Become a Gateway Drug
Eurchuk was given prescription opioids on multiple occasions after medical procedures and surgeries. Opioid addiction after surgery is, unfortunately, a common starting point for many people who go on to struggle with illicit opioid abuse. Eurchuk’s parents advocated for alternative medicine after several rounds of opioid prescriptions. They firmly believe that his use of street drugs began with a prescription opioid addiction.
Teen use of prescription opioids and illicit drugs like heroin often has multiple goals:
- Obtaining a euphoric high
- Self-medicating for mental health issues
- Managing withdrawal symptoms once an addiction has developed
- Giving in to peer pressure or cultural factors
Eurchuk’s use of prescription opioids and heroin is not an uncommon combination. Researchers have found that people who use prescription opioids often transition into using additional drugs. The difference is that prescription opioids are administered by a doctor, while heroin is acquired illegally. For teenagers who are skilled internet users and have access to the dark web, obtaining illicit opioids like heroin can be tragically easy.
The Dangers of Online Drug Sales
Today, teenagers like Eurchuk have unprecedented access to illicit substances through the dark web. Buying illegal drugs online is hard for officials to track and can be a simple and reliable source of substances for adolescents. The unregulated nature of these sales can lead to fatal drug combinations.
In Eurchuk’s case, the heroin he purchased was laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. Post-mortem toxicology reported that fentanyl, cocaine and heroin were all in Eurchuk’s system at the time of his death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. The ease of online drug sales can make teenagers a false sense of security and control. However, anyone who is addicted to any drug is not exhibiting safe behavior.
Teen “Invincibility Complex”
The teen testimonies at the inquest into Eurchuk’s death paint a troubling picture in which multiple other teens were involved in or aware of his illicit drug use. Some explained that they understood that each time they did heroin could end in death. Teen drug use presents challenges to lawmakers because an adolescent’s developmental stage is characterized by the assumption of an adult identity without a true understanding of the consequences of their actions, which can dramatically increase their risk of drug use.
Talking to your teenager about drugs means laying a foundation of honesty and openness in your relationship. Parents may feel overwhelmed by fear or a lack of understanding, but these factors should not be barriers to pursuing the topic. Eurchuk’s parents and the parents of any teen who has passed away because of drug overdose would strongly encourage overcoming any reservations and pushing for transparency before it is too late.
If your teen is living with addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Reach out to a representative today for more information about our specialized teen addiction treatment program.
Canadian Paediatric Society. “Medical Decision-Making in Paediatrics: Infancy to Adolescence.” April 12, 2018. Accessed July 12, 2019. Mackesey-Amiti, Mary E. et al. “Prescription Opioid Misuse and Mental Health Among Young Injection Drug Users.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, February 20, 2014. Accessed July 12, 2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Fentanyl?” February 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. Raol, Gayatri et al. “Heroin Overdose Hospitalization Risk due to Prescription Opioids using PDMP in WI.” Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, May 30, 2018. Accessed July 12, 2019. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule allow parents the right to see their children’s medical records?” December 19, 2002. Accessed July 12, 2019.
Canadian Paediatric Society. “Medical Decision-Making in Paediatrics: Infancy to Adolescence.” April 12, 2018. Accessed July 12, 2019.
Mackesey-Amiti, Mary E. et al. “Prescription Opioid Misuse and Mental Health Among Young Injection Drug Users.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, February 20, 2014. Accessed July 12, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Fentanyl?” February 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.
Raol, Gayatri et al. “Heroin Overdose Hospitalization Risk due to Prescription Opioids using PDMP in WI.” Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, May 30, 2018. Accessed July 12, 2019.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule allow parents the right to see their children’s medical records?” December 19, 2002. Accessed July 12, 2019.