Press Coverage

Max Kerr began his summer this year with little more than the common perceptions of addictions.

But the 18-year-old, who graduated this year from Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford, said that perception has shifted monumentally after working for a non-profit revolving around addictions and homelessness.

“When I came to my first meeting here, I kind of just kept to myself, and I was really nervous. I didn’t entirely want to shake people’s hands because all the perceptions I had were: homeless people are grimy, they’re dirty. And anyone I told about this, they said ‘Well, be careful that they don’t try to manipulate you into giving them money or drugs or something,’” he said.

But even at that first meeting, Kerr said his perceptions were already shifting.

“As soon as I met them, I knew that my perception of them was wrong. I think a lot of people probably know that, too, but they don’t listen to that thought,” he said.

The dialogue around addictions has been shifting, with health and government officials formerly viewing it as a legal issue, but now beginning to see it as more of a health issue. But Kerr said he believes it will take some time to get the wider public body to view addictions that same way.

“It’s going to be difficult, because I think for a lot of people, they have to meet these people and learn from them and hear their stories, which a lot of people just generally don’t have time to do,” Kerr said.

Abbotsford News, August 31, 2018

The Drug War Survivors (DWS) has already been working on community cleanups, especially in the downtown area, and Friday’s cleanup will provide that ongoing project with some supplies from Fraser Health, such as tongs. DWS will be able to keep those supplies, helping to cement the project into place.

DWS member Kiah Ashley said funding from Fraser Health has allowed DWS programs, such as the cleanup, to flourish.

“If we can ride on that and continue to meet their goals and show them what we’re capable of, then hopefully they will acknowledge that, continue to support that and increase the support across the board,” Ashley said.

Bonella noted that the biggest contributor to overdose deaths in the community is stigma surrounding addictions, and a park cleanup can help to ease that.

“There’s such a strong desire from our people to get involved … to not be so separate and always looked at as the problem, but to be given the tools – literally, the tools – to help. So hopefully doing the cleanup shows that that community spirit is alive in everybody in Abbotsford, clean or sober, drunk or high.”

Abbotsford News, August 30, 2018

As we all know the opioid crisis has affected hundreds and hundreds of British Columbians. And we continue to hear stories of overdose deaths and lost loved ones. And now a group of youth in Abbotsford has created a series of workshops for the community to explore just how everyone is affected by this crisis.

Andrew Millage is a youth advocate living in Abbotsford and he is one of the co-facilitators of the new community support session. It’s called PIPS and it stands for “Prevention is Power Sharing” and they start tomorrow at 3:00 in the afternoon at Impact Youth & Family Substance Use Services in Abbotsford.

CBC Radio, On the Coast, July 28, 2017

Gross says youth in his program came up with the idea [of Naloxone Ninjas] themselves, because they’d either experienced an OD, or knew someone who had. Many had never even heard of Naloxone.

“So when we introduced it to them, actually the stories started coming out from them about their experiences with overdose. We’d known some of these kids for two years and we had never heard these stories from them.”

Gross says the program opened a door that let youth be honest about what was going on in their lives, and offered them an avenue to do something positive.

He says many brought friends in because they felt it would be a safe and pressure-free environment.

“A lot of people will not come to something if they feel you’re going to be pressured into making some changes that you feel you’re not ready to make.”

CKNW AM 980, August 11, 2016

Gross says the idea came from youth themselves. He says they wanted to help friends who were using, and wanted to create an environment where they wouldn’t feel judged or pressured.

“Because a lot of times if there’s any whiff of that, those youth aren’t going to come out just because they’re going to feel bad. And they don’t want to feel bad. And that’s a lot of the reason why they’re using these drugs in the first place.”

Gross says the results were surprising. Not only did it engage the youth in a frank discussion about drug use and safety, but it also led to behavioral changes when the kids learned they needed to be sober in order to use a kit to save their friends.

“Instead of telling youth don’t use these drugs, when we give them something to do with their friends to make sure that they’re there so that everyone is safe, we’ve actually found that some of the youth who have been trained to use naloxone have markedly reduced, or stopped using opiates… because they want to be around and available to administer the naloxone if it’s needed.”

CKNW AM 980, June 9, 2016

Even before the province declared the health emergency, Brian Gross, project director for Valley Youth Partnership for Engagement and Respect (VYPER) said youth in his program had talked about coming up with ways to keep kids safer.

“A lot of these youth are dealing with friends who are using fentanyl on a daily basis and feel like, ‘What can I do?’” Gross said. 

Many didn’t know what naloxone was, he said, and only after they first learned about it, did they start sharing personal stories about times they really could have used it.

To those who might argue providing naloxone to young people could encourage drug abuse, Gross said the issue is complex.

“It would be wonderful if people just didn’t do this and this didn’t happen, but it’s happening,” he said. “The fact is that we have a public health crisis on our hands, and there have been a lot of lives saved as a result of naloxone in the Fraser Health region.”

Burnaby Now, June 1, 2016

Police and health experts advise drug users to have someone with them in case they get into trouble with potentially fentanyl-laced substances. Some parents let their kids drink alcohol at home under their watch but what if it was opioids instead? Should parents supervise their kids at home while getting high?

Family and Youth Drug counsellor Brian Gross with Impact realizes there are some families that go that route because they believe it’s safer.

He doesn’t recommend it but he knows making decisions as a parent is tough and so he is always supportive.

“It’s natural I think that some parents decide to do other things than disallow their kids to use drugs at all at home. They may also have concerns that they might be able to keep their kids safer when the kids are at home, but we really don’t want to tell parents what to do any more than we want to tell youth what to do.”

He believes there is significant harm either way.

He does suggest parents along with their kids get a naloxone take home kit which acts as an antidote for hard drugs like heroine and fentanyl in hopes it’ll save lives.

“Parents and youth and any drug user who has used opiates should look into getting narcan. We think parents possibly getting training with their kids—not only does it provide them another tool to keep safe but it also provides opportunity for more communication around the risks and how to stay safer,” adds Gross.

Vancouver News 1130, August 10, 2015

Brian Gross with Impact Youth and Family Substance Use Services says “Oxy,” as many call it, is growing in popularity among teens. It’s a prescription pain killer which can make it easier to access.

“That drug may be what they have available to them whereas they might not have other drugs available. The other thing is that some kids are risk takers,” says Gross, who expects things to get worse.

He believes prevention shouldn’t just be about talking to your kids about abstinence, but should include the reality of how unsafe it can be when you don’t know what’s really in pills.

“I mean, I think we should assume that this is going to be an ongoing and possibly growing problem and therefore we need to talk about it with youth.”

He notes people tend to hype up long weekends which can often lead to teens taking more risks.

Vancouver News 1130, August 2, 2015

Brian Gross, executive director of Impact Youth Substance Use Services in Abbotsford, said that in a 2009 “developmental assets” study conducted by the school district, 10 per cent of youth indicated they had sniffed or inhaled substances to get high once or more in the previous 30 days.

Eight per cent of Mission youth indicated the same thing.

Gross said this was the only form of drug use that was higher in Abbotsford than in Mission.

Abbotsford News, December 16, 2014

Abbotsford Youth Health Centre was recently nominated for the Premier’s Award of Excellence. Leaders from this program, which operates in part out of Bakerview Centre for Learning, were on hand to share their successful story and the award with the district, which is one of the AYHC’s core partners.

Board Chair Cindy Schafer and Eric Van Egmond, Community Service Manager for the Ministry of Children and Family Development are shown with the award. Also on hand were Brian Gross of Impact Youth Substance Use Services and Dr. Elizabeth Watt of the Division of Family Practice and primary physician with the AYHC.

Board News, Abbotsford School District, November 18, 2014

“This endeavour is a wonderful example of the community coming together to create a youth health centre that reaches our most vulnerable youth,” says Eric Van Egmond, community services manager with the Ministry of Children and Family Development Abbotsford (FDA). “No one organization could have developed this centre on their own; it took a community of committed and dedicated organizations and individuals.”

The Abbotsford Youth Health Centre’s winning nomination was based on the formation of new partnerships and an innovative approach to serve a high-risk population.

The Premier’s Award recognizes exceptional efforts and dedication to the BC Public Service. The Centre is operated by a coalition of agencies, including the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Abbotsford Division of Family Practice, Abbotsford Community Services and Impact Youth Substance Use Services, and has received support from Fraser Health and the Abbotsford School district.

Fraser Health Newsroom, September 30, 2014

Brian Gross, the Executive Director of Impact Youth Substance Use Services, spoke of how clients are afraid they are going to get a lecture and not the support and help needed to recover their lives. He raised the important point that a spectrum of services is needed because there is no one way that works.

Abbotsford Today, January 29, 2013

Brian Gross, executive director of Impact youth substance use services, told the harm reduction panel that drug users need access to a spectrum of services and both harm reduction and abstinence programs should be available to addicts.

Montreal Gazette, January 23, 2013

The Abbotsford Youth Health Centre (AYHC) has received a $10,000 grant from the Oak Tree Foundation, enabling it to keeps its doors open through the fall.

The AYHC currently operates out of Abbotsford Regional Hospital, but funding has been a struggle, said Brian Gross, an AYHC co-chair and executive director at Impact Youth Substance Abuse Services.

“We’re still in urgent need of funds. We’re running on nearly 60 per cent volunteer time, which isn’t sustainable over the long term,” he said.

Abby News, July 24, 2012

As the speakers took their turns, people in the audience wept over the personal anecdotes of community organizer Brian Gross, and they booed David Berner of the Drug Prevention Network for speaking against the practice of needle distribution and exchange. Heads cocked sideways over the complex legal arguments put forth by Pivot Legal Society lawyer Scott Bernstein, in which he argued that the harm reduction bylaw is illegal for jurisdictional reasons and that it likely violates human rights to health. Dan Small spoke on behalf of the Portland Hotel Society, urging council to repeal the bylaw.

The Tyee, June 4, 2012

At Monday’s Council meeting the issue of harm reduction strategies took centre stage, bringing out strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

Currently the City has a bylaw banning harm reduction strategies like needle exchanges.

Brian Gross from the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee gave an impassioned speech.

“Harm reduction acknowledges that rubbing someone’s nose in their weaknesses does not make them stronger.  Harm reduction introduces positive change into people’s lives.  Every time an injection drug user unwraps a clean rig, they have an opportunity to think about why.”

Abbotsford Times, May 29, 2012

In Abbotsford’s student-aged population there has been nearly a death a month from suicide and lethal reactions to the use of drugs over the last year, the advisory committee reports.

Abbotsford’s hospital admission rates for drug overdose are considerably higher than both Fraser Health and provincial rates – higher than either the cities of Surrey or New Westminster.

The good news is that Abbotsford has one of the oldest and most active mental health and substance use advisory committees in the Fraser Health region, comprised of professionals, clients and their families.

The committee now wants to hear from those who will be affected by the future direction to address and provide services for mental health and substance abuse issues.

Abbotsford Times, May 29, 2012

The issue of the social stigmatisation of drug users was compelling addressed at the meeting by Brian Gross, who spoke on behalf of the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee (SWaRH), a group of community organisations that has been distributing thousands of clean drug needles every night in Abbotsford since 2005. Gross has previously said that the bylaw sends a cruel message that Abbotsford “would rather see addicts dead than within the city.”

At the meeting, Gross gave a beautiful and moving speech drawing parallels between the social stigmatisation of drug users to that of queer youth. He exhorted City Council to step away from black and white notions of right and wrong and “into the grey,” and to recognise that one of the primary uses of harm reduction programs like needle exchanges is that it gives drug users, who are often faced with intense social alienation, tangible proof that people do care about them.

Pivot Legal Blog, May 29, 2012

The Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee (SWaRH) is a group of Abbotsford community organizations that to varying extents have been discreetly distributing needles since 2005.

Brian Gross, SWaRH chair, said the coalition will continue to better co-ordinate their harm reduction services to stem disease regardless of what Abbotsford council decides about the bylaw.

“Whether the bylaw is in place or not, Fraser Health has indicated there will be seed money to help with training and capacity building,” said Gross.

The group includes Abbotsford Community Services, BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, the 5 and 2 Ministries and Positive Living Fraser Valley Society.

The goal is to pursue harm reduction but also ensure the city’s most vulnerable populations feel cared about, valued and have a role to play in the community, added Gross.

“We need to stop looking [at drug users] through just one lens,” he said.

Abbotsford Times, May 25, 2012

A consortium of Abbotsford community groups, called the Supporting Wellness and Reducing Harm Committee, have been quietly distributing needles in Abbotsford shooting galleries since 2005.

“Is there a need? Absolutely,” said Brian Gross, board member and Abbotsford liaison for the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, a consortium member.

“They go out with thousands of needles at night and they come back with none.”

Gross said councillors shouldn’t set health policy and felt the bylaw sent a cruel message: “They would rather see addicts dead than within the city.”

The Province, May 18, 2012

Abbotsford’s zoning bylaw was amended in 2005 to prohibit any individual or organization — including Fraser Health, which oversees the provision of health services in the region — from establishing harm-reduction facilities like needle exchanges or injection sites in the area…

BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors board member Brian Gross is hopeful that city council will seriously re-evaluate how it deals with drug users and substance abuse.

“The bylaw … has sent the message that drug users don’t have value — that the city, in some ways, would rather have them dead than in the city boundaries,” he said.

Gross also said that, in spite of the bylaw, some harm reduction services are already being provided in Abbotsford. At meetings of his association, for example, clean needles are distributed to members. Gross said.

Vancouver Sun, May 7, 2012

The board of education approved at its public meeting on April 16 that the health centre be part of the “hub” at Bakerview, but three trustees were opposed… [because] they would not be comfortable supporting the project, unless parental permission was guaranteed.

AYHC development consultant Brian Gross said many of these youth are not comfortable approaching their parents with their health concerns.

Gross said the centre has seen almost 200 kids from the community, and 30 per cent of those have been from Bakerview… [so the] AYHC wanted to be more accessible to those students by offering services at the school one day a week.

Abbotsford News, April 26, 2012

In the space of a year, the Abbotsford Youth Health Centre is serving a growing number of young patients and the demand is on the rise, said Brian Gross, AYHC development consultant.

“We didn’t know exactly what the demand would be when we started, but a lot of youth need the services,” said Gross.

Now open two days a week, it’s already near capacity, said Gross.

In the first 62 days the AYHC was open, it served 122 young clients with an average of three visits per person, for a total of 319 appointments.

But the primary challenges are finding adequate, stable funding and a long-term facility, said Gross.

“There are a lot of possibilities for where we could end up, but that’s in the distant future and youth need the services now,” he said.

“We’d like a dedicated space, a one-stop shop where youth can access activities and other services and don’t feel stigmatized.”

Abbotsford Times, January 3, 2012

“It’s not often that the word ‘honour’ is associated with substance use and mental illness,” says Abbotsford Mental Health & Addiction Advisory Council (AMHAAC) Secretary and Treasurer Brian Gross, “but we’re doing what we can with our upcoming public forum to change that.”

“Honestly, when we put out a call for people who have lived or are living the journey of mental illness and substance use in our community, we didn’t know how many would feel safe enough to volunteer,” says Gross, “but I think it’s a testament both to the progress of society and the courage of individuals that we have already heard from so many who want to share their stories.”

Abbotsford Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee – Press Release, May 11, 2011

“We want the program to be a safe place for our youth to explore their relationship to drugs,” said Brian Gross, a development consultant with IMPACT youth addiction and prevention services who designed the initiative.

“A lot of kids don’t reach out to adults because they are afraid of what they will do or say,” Gross said.

“If you are sending them the message that drugs are bad and evil and horrible, and then they take drugs and it makes them feel better than they ever have before, they are probably not going to come talk to you about that.”

Abbotsford News, June 14, 2010