Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich

New plan needed to fight overdose crisis, says police chief

Bob Rich of Abbotsford says prevention and early intervention are crucial

Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich recalls the phone call he received from a mom traumatized by the death of her adult son.

The man was prescribed opioids to cope with the physical pain following an operation, but he became addicted and turned to buying drugs on the streets.

His habit turned fatal when he ingested a substance that was, unknowingly to him, laced with fentanyl.

“That’s just horrible to me. We’re talking about somebody who never would have been a drug addict … That makes me angry,” Rich said of the incident.

That story and many others have prompted Rich to author a report titled The Opioid Crisis: The Case for Prevention, which was released Tuesday.

The report comes in the midst of the drug overdose crisis, which has seen 488 deaths in B.C. alone so far this year as of April 30.

The projected provincial death toll for the year is 1,400.

Rich said 50 per cent of these deaths occurred in private residences, and only 10 per cent were on the streets.

Many of the fatalities occurred to recreational or first-time users.

Rich wants to spread a message of prevention, in much the same way that messages about cigarette smoking and drunk driving led to changes in attitudes and behaviour over the years.

Rich said prior to the overdose crisis, the risk of dying while using street drugs was mainly isolated to “entrenched drug users.”

But now any user of drugs is at high risk, and he believes a “culture shift” is needed, with a larger focus on prevention and early intervention.

“For a crisis caused by an unstoppable flow of drugs that are killing people daily, the real answer lies with finding a way to stop people from initially using these drugs,” Rich writes.

He said the current response typically involves first responders attending an overdose call, after which the individual chooses not to go to the hospital or seek treatment.

“The problem is that, although this response saves a life, it does nothing to end the drug use and cycle of addiction causing the crisis,” Rich writes in the report.

He said an addict currently seeking recovery faces a number of barriers, including cost, capacity, stigma and discrimination.

Rich said a “new methodology” and “re-allocation of existing resources” are needed. He says that such a program will require, among other things:

• a government appointee in charge of a prevention and early intervention program;

• the development of a comprehensive plan;

• co-operation among various government agencies to come up with solutions; and

• a targeted approach that includes messages and programs.

The full report can be viewed online at abbypd.ca.