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Coroner's inquest will investigate death of UVic student who died from drug overdose, says premier

Sidney McIntyre-Starko went into cardiac arrest following fentanyl poisoning in a UVic dorm room

There will be a coroner’s inquest into the death of a first-year University of Victoria student who went into cardiac arrest as a result of fentanyl poisoning in a dorm room in January, Premier David Eby said Thursday. 

“The solicitor general will be directing a coroner’s inquest,” Eby said. 

The final question period of the legislative session was dominated by the death of Sidney McIntyre-Starko and her parents’ fight for answers, a story Vancouver Sun reporter Lori Culbert broke this week. 

The 18-year-old science student would likely have survived if she had received timely interventions from university security, 911 dispatchers or bystanders, her parents say. Instead, she died in hospital on Jan. 29. 

“Our daughter’s death was completely preventable,” parents Caroline McIntryre and Ken Starko said in a letter to the premier. “Systemic failures by both the province of B.C. and the University of Victoria led directly to Sidney’s untimely death.” 

The point of the coroner’s inquest, said Eby, will be to get answers for Sidney’s family, for British Columbians, and for government, “to make sure that we’re doing all we can to prevent every death that we can in this terrible toxic drug crisis that has taken so many lives and damaged so many families.” 

If necessary, policies will be changed to prevent similar deaths, he said. 

Eby called the timeline of events as reconstructed by the student’s family “profoundly disturbing.” That timeline includes when naloxone was administered — at nine and-a-half minutes — and CPR was initiated, at 12 minutes. 

“Part of the tragedy of Sidney’s death, as I understand it, is that there were security from UVic that were in the room as she died that had naloxone, that had naloxone training, and did not deploy that naloxone immediately,” said Eby. 

“There are serious questions that need to be answered about this horrific death, which is why the Solicitor General has directed a coroner’s inquest.” 

The premier said the government is reaching out to university presidents across the province to make sure they all have the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and are doing all they can on their campuses. 

BC United leader Kevin Falcon called the NDP government’s response to the overdose crisis a patchwork of half-measures and fatal inconsistencies. 

“Some campuses have accessible naloxone, while others restrict access to business hours — a life-saving measure that is impeded by bureaucracy,” said Falcon. 

“How many more young lives will be lost before this government recognizes that his government’s approach to this drug crisis is tragically failing and that dramatic changes are necessary and urgently needed to protect our youth?” 

The Opposition leader said he supports McIntyre-Starko’s parents’ demands for mandatory CPR and naloxone training for high school and university students, free and widely available nasal naloxone, and improved emergency protocols on campus 

Falcon said more education for young people is needed “so they understand that all drugs are dangerous, and drugs can be fatal.” 

The premier said the government has two goals during the toxic-drug-overdose crisis: to keep people alive through harm-reduction measures and to support them in recovery, while also ensuring safe communities. 

“Sidney’s death is horrible,” he said. “It is a death that is preceded by thousands of other deaths and affected families and friends.” 

Last year alone, 2,511 people, or about seven people a day, died of toxic-drug poisonings and more than 14,000 have died since the crisis was declared a public-health emergency in 2016. 

“It’s hard to think the case that better illustrates that tragedy than the death of such a remarkable young person as Sidney,” said Eby, adding: “This is a situation that anyone can imagine. 

“There’s a kid in a dorm room with a friend that they trust and …. that offers them something, and they don’t know where it came from, and it ends up in a horrific result that could have been prevented.” 

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the government is working across the post-secondary system, health authorities and public health sector to ensure appropriate procedures and training are in place. 

The province’s ongoing education campaign is “telling youth that the illicit drug supply is poison,” said Whiteside. 

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