Kamloops youth homelessness advocate dies of accidental drug overdose

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His death was ruled an accident, caused by a mixture of illicit drug toxicity that included a lethal amount of fentanyl, according to his coroner’s report.

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Katherine McParland, the former executive director of A Way Home Kamloops, has died of an accidental illicit drug overdose, the BC Coroners Service has revealed.

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McParland was found deceased Dec. 5, 2020, at a private residence in the 100 block of Lorne Street, where police were called just after 9 a.m. to a report of “the unexpected death of a woman in her 30s. “.

His death was ruled an accident, caused by a mixture of illicit drug toxicity that included a lethal amount of fentanyl, according to his coroner’s report.

According to the report, McParland, 33, was found unconscious in bed by a friend.

BC Ambulance Service paramedics showed up and attempted to resuscitate McParland, but she was unresponsive to these efforts and was pronounced dead.

McParland was seen ingesting illicit substances the previous night, according to the report.

“There was no observable traumatic injury or evidence of foul play,” the report said. “Apparelments commonly associated with illicit substance use were present near her.”

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Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service: Call 1-800-663-1441 (toll-free in British Columbia) for resources and support. They can refer you to services across the province.

Katherine McParland, executive director of A Way Home Kamloops, draws a flowchart on a whiteboard at their office, Kamloops, June 24, 2019.
Katherine McParland, executive director of A Way Home Kamloops, draws a flowchart on a whiteboard at their office, Kamloops, June 24, 2019. Photo by Gerry Kahrmann /PNG

An investigation found that McParland had a history of illicit substance use, the report said. She had been sober for a long time, but recently relapsed.

About a week before her death on Nov. 28, 2020, McParland was treated in hospital for complications from substance use, the report said.

At the time of her death, she had no doctor, had not participated in any recovery programs, and was not receiving opioid agonist treatment.

“In this case, an autopsy was not indicated because the cause of death was established by toxicology and was supported by the results of the investigation,” the report said.

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Toxicology analysis detected fentanyl – an opioid that exerts central nervous system depressant effects and can cause life-threatening respiratory suppression – in a lethal range in McParland’s system. Etizolam, a drug typically used to treat anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia, was also detected, but in a range typically associated with recreational use.

The combination of fentanyl and etizolam can produce greater respiratory depression, the coroner’s report says.

A Way Home Kamloops is a non-profit agency dedicated to ending youth homelessness and McParland was its foundation and driving force for years.

“Katherine was an incredible spirit filled with light and love,” her friend Benjamin Bowden told KTW at the time of her death. “She used her struggles in life to give back to her community by earning her Masters in Social Work and founding the non-profit A Way Home Kamloops to bring attention to youth homelessness. She will be sorely missed in the lives of all those she touched.

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McParland spent much of her teenage years in foster homes, and once out of the system at 19, she was homeless in Kamloops for a time.

She would often tell her story, recounting how she slept outside and surfed on the couch at friends’ houses. In his presentations, McParland would describe foster care as “the highway to homelessness,” noting that children run away when foster homes fail to meet their needs.

When she turned 19 and grew old without foster care, McParland joined foster siblings on the streets and described being abused. McParland eventually secured housing and enrolled at Thompson Rivers University, graduating with a social work degree in 2016. She then completed her Masters in Social Work Leadership program at the University of Calgary.

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In 2017, McParland received the Peace Medal from the YMCA-YWCA of Kamloops, after being nominated by Tina Lange, city councilor and former owner of McParland’s. In 2020, McParland received the Heart of the Grasslands Award from the BC Association of Social Workers.

McParland was also appointed to the Federal Government Advisory Board and co-chaired the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness.

Since his death, A Way Home Kamloops has received a record number of donations at its annual encampment to end youth homelessness, boosted by his legacy, and the organization is set to inaugurate a complex of apartments for homeless youth in North Kamloops that will bear her name – Katherine’s Place.


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