By Weam Namou
Within one month, three people from the Chaldean American community lost their lives to drug overdose. In response, Peter’s Angels hosted a Resource Fair on Sunday, September 24 at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy. Named after Peter Alraihani, who lost his life at 27-years-old to an overdose in 2014, Peter’s Angels was formed by his aunt Iman Numan and sister Angie Toma. They wanted to raise awareness of the drug epidemic within the Chaldean community and to provide prevention through education and awareness.
“This isn’t isolated to the Chaldean community, it’s a national crisis,” said Michael Patton, Chief of Police of the West Bloomfield Police Department. “More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, the highest number ever, and they haven’t calculated the numbers for 2016.”
According to 2015 data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there were 1,275 deaths from an overdose of opioids, including heroin, in Michigan alone. That number exceeded the 840 deaths from traffic crashes and the 1,164 from gun deaths.
“We have a culture that depends on prescription drugs for pain management,” said Patton. “If not used correctly or if used for too long, powerful legal drugs prescribed by a doctor can create an addiction.”
Once the patient no longer has the prescribed medication, they move on to street drugs such as heroin, meth, crack, cocaine, and synthetic molly. Dealers meanwhile are diluting heroin with fentanyl, which is stronger and cheaper than heroin.
“A lot of drugs out there are being abused, including marijuana,” said Patton. “There’s no regulations or quality control so you don’t know what’s going into your body.”
Some police departments across the country, including West Bloomfield, carry NARCAN, a nasal spray that’s highly successful in reversing the overdose. They use it if they arrive to the scene before the paramedics.
Critics have said that this drug is enabling, but Patton says, “Look, we’re in the life saving business.”
NARCAN can be prescribed to and administered by a caregiver of someone who is addicted.
“There has to be a balancing act between caring for pain and not getting addicted,” said Patton.
The best way to address this epidemic is through education and prevention. Yet since this issue is so entrenched in the notion of taboo, many Chaldean individuals and families try to hide the drug addiction and deal with it themselves. People fear that if others find out, they will talk about and look down upon them.
“Unfortunately, this stops people from getting the proper and necessary help that they need and take the right steps,” said Janice Kizy from Hope in Counseling, adding, “You can’t force anyone to get help. A good way to get help is to get help yourself to learn about the resources and options out there.”
Wendy Love of Families Against Narcotics (FAN) has observed that the Italian and Chaldean culture have a lot of pride and it is hard to break that pride when it comes to this subject.
“It’s really a medical issue,” said Love. “We get people of every background sitting together and figuring out how to work on this together.”
FAN was born out of a town hall meeting held in 2007 as a result of two teen heroin overdoses just weeks apart in the small, middle-class suburban community of Fraser, Michigan. One of their programs is Hope Not Handcuffs where an individual with any drug addiction can come to any of the designated agencies, such as a police station, and ask for help. An “angel” will then be called to them.
“The “angel” will do everything in their power to get them into rehab,” she said. “Once we get them in there, we’ll do everything we can to get them to stay in recovery.”
Feinberg Addiction Services also participated at the Source Fair. They have professionals who are not only very knowledgeable and skilled in the field of addiction, but they have walked the path themselves. Through their own recovery, they are able to support their clients and their families by providing them with hope and the tools to help them heal. For instance, Jeff Rosenberg is a recovering addict who is happy to use his skill to help others.
“This is where my passion and love is,” Rosenberg said. “To have a job trying to help people just like me.”
The government also recently got involved in this issue. On October 12, Wayne County and Oakland County announced that they’re suing about a dozen drug manufacturers and distributors for deceptive marketing and sales of opioids (in 2011 alone, pharmaceutical companies generated $11 billion just from opioid sales). They’re welcoming Macomb County to join, as well as asking patients and doctors to come forward.
“My brother would be so proud of all the people that came out to the Source Fair,” said Angie Toma.
If you are in need of help or are a family member or friend is seeking help, call Peter’s Angels 24-Hour Hotline at (833) ANGEL-4U [ (833) 264-3548 ] - where someone will always answer to help you or your loved one find help.
If you suspect a loved one is in trouble, seek help immediately. Look for the following warning signs and possible symptoms of opiate abuse (information made available by FAN).
Warning Signs of Abuse
• Missing money and valuables
• Missing spoons (used to heat heroin)
• Arrests for theft
• Finding needles or orange caps, burnt bottle caps, small plastic bags or foil
• Constantly asking for money
Possible Symptoms of Opiate Abuse
• Behavior changes: loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed including sports, school, friends, or family
• Physical changes: no longer cares about appearance
• Constricted pupils
• Drowsy or nodding out even in mid-sentence
• Irresponsibility at work or school
• Lying, manipulating and stealing
• Wearing long shirts and pants, even during warm weather
• Increased sleeping
• Slurred speech
• Needle track marks on arms or legs
• Weight loss and/or loss of appetite
• Constant runny nose
• Dark, hollow or sunken eyes