Andy Bhatti managed to wrestle free from the grip of heroin addiction a few years ago.
These days, the Langley interventionist sees, first-hand, how the opioid crisis has put a virtual deathlock on so many others in his hometown – and across B.C.
Bhatti is driven to help those in the throes of addiction, as well as victims of sexual abuse, and he has a legendary pro wrestler in his corner.
“Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts is also a survivor of child abuse and an ex-alcoholic,” Bhatti said.
A WWE Hall of Fame 2014 inductee, Roberts is scheduled to perform ‘unspoken word road stories’ and standup comedy at Lafflines Comedy Club in New Westminster on Friday, April 21, starting at 7 p.m.
The night is being presented by Lafflines and Survivors Supporting Survivors (supportingsurvivors.ca).
“Our goal from this event is to raise awareness about sexual abuse and addiction,” said Bhatti, who operates Andy Bhatti Interventions & Addiction Services.
“The money raised from this event will go to pay for victims of sexual assault therapy – men or women.”
Roberts told the Times by phone that he’s looking forward to returning to the Lower Mainland, where he essentially launched his pro wrestling career in the 1970s.
"It's definitely one of most beautiful places in the world,” Roberts said. “I love it out there, man, I really do. Seeing what my old girlfriends look like, well that might be pretty scary, but I’ll take a chance.”
The cause is the main motivation for Roberts. “Anytime something comes up for kids, or for any of those people who have been abused, or addiction, yeah, go ahead and throw it at me. I suffered for a long time with that; it’s not something you get over. It’s something you carry with you and that you have deal with for the rest of your life. The memories don’t go away, they don’t fade fast enough. It can really screw up your life.”
Roberts said if “you’ve been through some hell, you’re quick to throw it back out.”
He added that the more he talks about the abuse he suffered, the more he gets it out there, “the easier it is for me to deal with. It’s quite the opposite from what we’re all taught. Shame is brutal… brutal.”
Regarding the upcoming show, Roberts is telling stories from the road – and he has plenty of them. “It’s just a great time all around. I stick around after the show, and if there are people there who want to talk about serious issues, I’ll stay as long as I need to.”
Abuse sparks addiction
A full-blown heroin addict by the age of 14, Bhatti was self medicating his pain after being sexually abused by his Big Brother, from the ages of nine to 13.
His abuser was later convicted of sexually abusing two boys in Kamloops.
It was only after that police officer came to him asking if he had been abused by that same man that Bhatti broke his silence.
Bhatti has created his own registered charity for victims of childhood sexual abuse (Survivors Supporting Survivors), and he works as an interventionist.
Supports lacking in Langley
Regarding addiction, Bhatti says he’s frustrated by the opioid crisis that has become an epidemic in Metro Vancouver, including Langley.
BC Coroners Service stats show that, in Langley, six people have died from illicit drug overdoses so far this year, and 29 people lost their lives to overdose in the community in 2016.
“In regards to Langley addiction problems, it’s just getting worse,” Bhatti said. “Langley and Vancouver have huge problems.”
There simply isn’t enough supports in place to help the substantial number of addicts in Langley, Bhatti said.
“Families are calling me all the time worried about their loved ones on fentanyl,” Bhatti said. “If they can’t get them into Surrey detox right away, they are forced to be put on Suboxone (used to treat opiate addiction). The problem is, when the addict wants to quit, it’s actually really hard for him to get help, so families are stuck, or faced to pay private treatment.”
Recovery is free, but private treatment is costly, Bhatti said.
“When we try to get the addicts on Suboxone, some doctors are trying to force the kids to stay on it (too) long,” Bhatti said.
“Abstinence is the goal for all my clients.”
Bhatti estimates that he gets a phone call every day from a family looking for services or looking to get their loved one on Suboxone or methadone.
He believes an increase in the number of homeless in Langley only exacerbates the drug problem. During the most recent Metro Vancouver homeless count, there were 206 people counted as homeless in Langley. That marks a 124 per cent increase in the number of homeless people since the last count in 2014, when 92 people were classified as homeless.
“There are so many homeless people in Langley, now,” Bhatti said. “So the shelter’s full, then they get wired on heroin or Oxy(codone) or cocaine, and the cocaine has Oxy in it and fentanyl. So when they want to get help, well now they have to go to Surrey or Abbotsford to get help.”
Bhatti said he’s been drug testing clients all over Langley and Surrey, lately, “and 50 per cent of the cocaine has fentanyl in it.”
“People taking cocaine or heroin nowadays are playing with fire,” he said.
“The sad part is,” Bhatti noted, that if “the parents do have money sometimes I have to send them to Thailand ‘cause it’s cheaper to send them there to get sexual abuse and addiction therapy by a psychiatrist (there) than it is here in Canada.”