It started with an injury in a wrestling class.
Elliot Eurchuk, 16, dislocated his shoulder in 2016. The injury prompted two surgeries. Then, an injury in a soccer game led to two more surgeries.
The sports injuries led to serious pain, and so Elliot’s doctor prescribed him a 10-day 60 tablet prescription of hydromorphone, an opioid more commonly known as Dilaudid, to help him cope.
Within 36 hours, the teen became dependent on the drugs, his parents say, and when the prescription ran out, he went to the street in search of more drugs to dull the pain.
Then, on a Friday morning in April, his mother, Rachel Staples, found her son unresponsive in bed. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
Sadly, Elliot’s story isn’t unique. Last year, 1,400 people died in B.C. in connection with the ongoing opioid crisis. That’s about one in three of the nearly 4,000 opioid deaths in Canada in 2017.
British Columbia announced Wednesday a proposed class action lawsuit against dozens of pharmaceutical companies. The case alleges that the companies falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other painkillers.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in Canada.
Elliot’s father, Brock Eurchuk, says the lawsuit is “overdue, but better now than never.”
“I would like to see them pursue this very aggressively,” Eurchuk told CTV News.
Four months after their son’s untimely death, the parents are standing behind the province’s decision to fight the opioid crisis in court. Brock Eurchuk says he believes it must have been clear to the drug companies that the opioids they created were “problematically addictive.”
“On this side of his death, knowing what I know now, I don’t think many people could not become dependent on hydromorphone with that prescription,” Eurchuk said.
“When I step back and look at the landscape and the circumstances around Elliot’s death, I feel the drug companies didn’t behave reasonably.”
Opioids are commonly used to treat intense pain. But Staples alleges that drug companies have not done enough to train doctors on proper doses.
“They should’ve stepped up to the plate and even started coaching and teaching these doctors who are prescribing them that short courses are the way to go, not long-term opiate dependency,” she said.
Even so, the parents insist that they do not blame their doctor for their son’s opioid addiction, as the doctor was following provincial protocol for prescribing the powerful painkillers.
The lawsuit, Staples said, is the “just tip of the iceberg” in terms of what can be done to address the deadly crisis.
“I think it’s necessary because it draws awareness to the problem. But I don’t think there’s enough treatment centres available for people, particularly youth. There are so many kids out there struggling with these addictions that I don’t even think we’re aware of. And yet, there are so few facilities for them to be treated.”
Among the 40 companies named in the lawsuit is OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which introduced and marketed the drug in Canada in 1996.
In a statement to CTV, Purdue said the company has "always marketed its products in compliance with all relevant rules, regulations and codes."
Other doctors say they hope the B.C. lawsuit will lead to more across Canada.
“I would hope that other governments in Canada, and in particular the federal government, would take an interest in this issue and plan to act in concert with the British Columbia government,” said Dr. Nav Persaud, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
The proposed lawsuit would not provide any compensation to victims or their families. Rather, it would seek to reimburse taxpayers for costs incurred to the healthcare system.
With files from CTV Vancouver