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After a 15-year-old’s opioid overdose death, B.C. looks at giving parents more rights

Provincial government reacts to tragic drug death of Squamish teenager
The provincial government says it's reaching out to the parents of a 15-year-old girl who died of a drug overdose, after they repeatedly tried but failed to force her into treatment. Aaron McArthur reports.

It’s difficult to imagine a situation where you feel more powerless; a child struggling with addiction, unwilling to obtain help, and there’s nothing a parent can legally do about it.

That’s what happened to Shaun Lawrence and Brenda Doherty, whose daughter Steffanie Lawrence succumbed to an opioid overdose last month.

Now the province is looking at ways to provide more rights for parents.

The current law does not allow parents to force children to attend counselling or addictions treatment because under law, it is considered holding someone against their will.

READ MORE: ‘We never made it to tomorrow’: Squamish family mourns 15-year-old’s opioid overdose death

“This is a devastating story about Steffanie,” said B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy.

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“We are really focused in our ministry on building a better system.

“It is very complex issue and I have heard from people on both sides of [the] issue and it is something we are going to be looking at as part of developing a better system for mental health and addiction care and one that is focused on children and youth.”

WATCH NOW: Squamish family calls for changes after daughter dies of opioid overdose

Squamish family calls for changes after daughter dies of opioid overdose
Squamish family calls for changes after daughter dies of opioid overdose

Lawrence was just 15 years old when she died.

The Squamish teen had battled addiction and in January her parents begged her to come home after a trip to Lions Gate Hospital and she refused.

Her parents also went as far as trying to involuntarily enroll her in a treatment program.

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Darcy said the province is trying to improve education in schools before addiction grips on to teenagers.

“We are really stepping our efforts to do education in our schools, to do awareness in the public at large and to address stigma,” Darcy said. “It’s stigma is often what leads to young people using along.”

READ MORE: Fentanyl contributed to hundreds of deaths in Canada so far this year

But advocates are concerned that isn’t enough, and that the laws need to change now.

Diane Sowden’s daughter was on the street, pregnant and using heroin on the street 25 years ago.

She tried to help her. And now, as the executive director of the Children of the Street Society, she is asking the government to give parents of children up to the age of 18 the right to intervene.

“A child’s right is to have a parent or caregiver that can keep them safe when they can’t do it themselves,” Sowden said.

“As a parent I should have had the right to be able to step in and keep her safe.”

Sowden said the province can do more than that, too. She is calling on B.C. to implement specialized foster care, where there are staff in a family setting.

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“They need to detox, they need long term treatment, they need support,” said Sowden.

“They need to disconnect with the people influencing them… it won’t happen overnight, this is a long term project.”

Shaun Lawrence has now started a petition to demand the B.C. government pass Bill M 240, the Safe Care Act. The petition has already been signed by more than 4,000 people. Click here to sign the petition.