BC youth homelessness advocate died of accidental drug overdose, coroner says

A youth homelessness advocate in Kamloops, BC, who advised provincial and federal governments on the issue, died of illicit drug toxicity, coroners have confirmed.

Katherine McParland’s accidental death at her home in Kamloops on Dec. 5, 2020 was the result of the mixed toxicity of fentanyl and etizolam, according to a BC Coroners Service report released this week.

The combination of the two drugs can cause serious suppression and failure of the respiratory system, according to the report, signed by coroner Kristen Evanski on Sept. 22.

The report says McParland was found lying on her back on the floor, with paraphernalia of illicit drug use beside her, and no signs of traumatic injury or foul play.

Achievements and challenges

McParland, 33, was the founder and executive director of A Way Home Kamloops, a non-profit organization that works to end youth homelessness. She also served on BC Housing’s board, was a co-chair of the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness and was a member of the federal government’s advisory committee on homelessness.

She died just a week before the Campout to End Youth Homelessness, an event hosted by her organization every December in Kamloops to raise public awareness of the issue.

McParland went through 28 different foster homes before she aged out of the foster care system at 19. She was homeless after that for a long while, but went on to earn a master’s degree in social work leadership.

Her friends have said she was struggling with her mental health at the time of her death.

Former Kamloops councilor Tina Lange, right, said her close friend McParland had experienced mental health issues before her death. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

The coroner’s report says McParland had a history of illicit substance use before her death. It adds that she had been abstinent for a long while before she relapsed, and had to receive hospital treatment for complications associated with drugs in November 2020.

“At the time of her death, Ms. McParland was not followed by a physician, had not participated in any recovery programs, and was not receiving opioid agonist treatment,” the coroner’s report says.

It also says no autopsy was done on McParland, because her cause of death could be found out through a toxicity analysis alone.

legacy remembered

Early this month, the province named a bursary for post-secondary social work students experiencing housing instability after McParland to honor her legacy.

A Way Home Kamloops says it will continue McParland’s work to support young people who are living with homelessness and addictions.

“One of the largest barriers to accessing support is the stigma associated with substance use,” the organization said in a statement on Thursday.

“We hope that understanding Katherine’s struggle will help people understand the need for more accessible supports and inspire many to take action in whatever way is available to them.”

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