The best solution for addressing the drug epidemic is long-term treatment for addicts, Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich told a crowd attending a fundraising breakfast on Wednesday.
“We think we can get away with doing harm reduction … (but) we have to to invest in long-term residential, highly supported care because many, many opioid addicts can be cured of their addiction,” he said during the second annual Crime is Toast event at the Quality Hotel and Conference Centre.
Rich acknowledged that such programs will be expensive, but believes government needs to make the investment.
He made the comments in relation to the rise in fentanyl-related fatal overdoses across the province this year.
A video shown at the breakfast indicated that there have been four murders and six traffic fatalities in Abbotsford so far this year compared to 26 fentanyl-related deaths.
Rich said people dying from the highly potent drug – which, unbeknownst to the user, is often mixed into other substances – come from all walks of life.
“They come from our schools. They come from people who are struggling with pain because of a car accident. They come from people who are foolishly experimenting with drugs for some kind of occasional hit on the weekend … and they come from people who are unable to control their addictions.”
Rich said the Abbotsford Police Department’s strategies to address the growing problem include a program in which officers give talks to local middle and high schools and a “fear-based” marketing campaign similar to the “Smoking Kills” messages from years past.
As well, the APD is part of a working group that is has been newly formed with other local agencies – including the school district, the City of Abbotsford, fire and ambulance personnel, and Community Services – to address the issue.
The objectives of the group are to spread awareness, disrupt fentanyl distribution and overdoses, and mitigate the dangers of fentanyl in Abbotsford.
“Abbotsford is really getting hammered. We have a lot of people who aren’t doing well with drugs in their life,” he said.
The Crime is Toast breakfast, attended by about 200 people, was hosted by the Abbotsford Police Foundation to raise funds for APD programs not covered by its operating budget.
Funds from this year’s event will go toward a campaign in which youth will create posters addressing the dangers of fentanyl and to the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle to enable officers to access rugged areas more easily.
A total raised at the breakfast was not available by press deadline.