Community members speak out about overdoses
By Weam Namou
The small tight-knit Chaldean community prides itself on having strong family values and a solid Christian faith. So, when negative outside influences of modern-day society such as drugs sneaks its way into their homes, they are baffled on what to do. Most prefer hiding the issue to avoid shame and embarrassment. They don’t want to be judged, talked about, and looked down upon. Some end up facing their worst nightmare – the loss of a loved one.
Nearly two years after our 2015 cover story on heroin addiction, drug overdoses continue to plague the community and Peter’s Angels is still on a mission to fight this epidemic.
After struggling for about ten years with addiction, Peter Alraihani lost his life at 27-years-old to an overdose on August 11, 2014. His aunt Iman Numan will never forget the day she received a call from her brother telling her of the horrific news.
“It was raining very hard,” she said. “I felt the angels crying for him.”
On the day of his funeral, Numan approached Peter’s older sister, Angie Toma, to find a way to help others in similar situations. This had already crossed Toma’s mind so she thought it was a great idea. Together, they founded Peter’s Angels, a 501 (C3) nonprofit organization.
“I didn’t want my brother’s death to go in vain,” said Toma. “He always wanted something in our community that addresses this problem. He said, ‘Why do I have to always go to American church and other centers for that?’”
Ten years his senior, Toma said she practically raised her brother Peter, who was the youngest of three children. She learned about his addiction about two years into it. It was sad and painful to watch him go through the ups and downs because, she said, “He’s not that type of person. He was such a good boy growing up.”
Peter was also smart, having received the highest MEAP Test score in the city of Southfield. His siblings are both well-educated; his brother has a master’s in computer science and his sister graduated from the University of Michigan – Dearborn with a degree in administration healthcare.
“My brother wasn’t a street kid or a punk,” Toma said. “He was a good person and my parents are great. This isn’t about social class or whether you’re a good person or not. It could happen to anyone.”
Similar words were echoed by George Abro who lost his nephew Brandon Kallabat, 26, to a drug overdose in September of 2017. Abro said that no one is immune from this issue, that the richest and smartest people could fall prey to it.
“My nephew was a bright kid with good grades who came out of school with honors,” he said. “There’s nothing his parents wouldn’t have done for him.”
The educational and social backgrounds of those affected by the drug epidemic has parents even more baffled. If providing love, support and financial security for their children can’t guarantee they will stay off of this deadly path, what will?
Some have suggested that parents use extreme old-fashioned measures such as locking the addict in a room, even beating them if necessary, to get them to quit. Abro said, “Being locked up or beat up will only make individuals worse. They will come out of it angry.”
He reminds people that laws don’t allow parents to control their children beyond 18 years of age.
“My nephew was a grown adult making his own choices,” he said. “People are quick to blame the parents, but how do you know what the parents went through?”
One mother whose son is currently struggling with drug addiction said that she refuses leaving her home for fear that her son would overdose while she’s out. She devotes all her time watching over him. Toma said that was the situation for her mother too.
“My mother would not go to work, would stay home and just wait,” she said. “There was constant fear – every day not knowing if that’s the day that would be his last.”
Abro believes that a suitable long-term rehab, proper counseling, and the right amount of cooperation from the individual could help an addict recover.
“It’s a myth to think that if you’ve gone too far, you can’t clean up,” he said. “But it’ll have to be a long-term process. Short-term fix doesn’t work.”
“No one is ever straight,” said Toma. Her brother, similarly to Abro’s nephew, would go clean for years and then fall back again.
Neither families know exactly how their loved ones got into drugs, whether it was through friends or by prescribed drugs, but they believe that the best defense to prevention and recovery is education and awareness about medicine and addiction.
Father Brian addressed this issue during a Sunday mass at St. Joseph Chaldean Church. He said that millions of Americans suffer from pain every day, that people are in so much pain, they feel their only option is a pill. “They try to hide the pain rather than reach out,” he said.
“People shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to come forward,” said Toma. “It’s the parents’ job to know about this and catch it early. It’s not easy when you catch them late.”
“Families sheltering their children or loved ones are not doing them any service,” said Abro. “These individuals are lost and if they don’t find something greater than themselves to occupy them, they’ll continue what they’re doing.”
Abro said that this especially hits children who want to fit in. Drug use is glamorized through social media and rap songs. When something is taboo, it becomes exciting and kids want to do it.
“That was the case when alcohol was prohibited,” he said.
He feels his job is not finished. He and his brother will continue to work on finding steps to build education and awareness because the last thing he wants is for this issue to just go away. “That’s when we’ve failed,” he said.
While he does recognize and criticize the Chaldeans who are poisoning their own community by selling drugs, much of his concern is about doctors who easily prescribe drugs to their patients.
“It’s a quick fix and the doctors are getting compensated for it,” he said. “All these pills are just masking the pain.”
Aside from education and awareness, Peter’s aunt advised people to turn to God to strengthen their faith. That was Father Brian’s message for his congregation. He first noted that there are no pills for a broken heart, for bullying at school, or for being abused by a spouse. Pain is something we all endure, that it hits everyone and doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes it leads to despair, to giving up.
He then encouraged people to turn to Jesus rather than a pill for help, saying, “When you turn to Jesus for help, He’ll say ‘thank you.’ He won’t turn you away, but you have to invite Him. He might use a doctor, priest, or counselor to help you.”