Addiction Breaks Hearts of Family and Friends: Finding Support in Wayne County

Addiction is a family disease, and it is devastating our community. We are losing an unprecedented number of young people to this illness, and families need resources, education, and support. – Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor Lauren Rousseau, and president of the Northwest Wayne County Families Against Narcotics Chapter

Professor Rousseau is a long-time resident of Livonia and is personally acquainted with the destruction that heroin can cause.  From 2010 to 2012, she was legal guardian for a young man, also a Livonia resident, who struggled with heroin addiction and ultimately died in his teens.

“In April 2012, I lost someone I loved due to heroin addiction,” shared Rousseau. “He was a kid – only 19 years old – and I was his legal guardian. We had spent the better part of the previous year battling his disease. He had gone through part of an intensive outpatient program, but had been kicked out for using. He had done inpatient treatment twice, relapsing within 48 hours of release each time. And exactly one week after his last inpatient treatment, with his addiction once again in full force, the disease took him to the place where he lost his life. His death broke my heart, and the hearts of his family and friends. We will never be the same.”

Judge Kathleen McCann of Livonia’s 16th District Court has also personally witnessed the horrors of opioid abuse in her community, observing it escalate to epidemic proportions.

“As a sobriety court judge, I see the extraordinary pain and effort that our participants expend to finally be free of their dependency on opiates and heroin,” she said.  “Unfortunately, I have had to close too many files when parents bring me a death certificate because their child overdosed before we could reach them.”

Judge McCann sits on the advisory board of the new Northwest Wayne County Chapter of Families Against Narcotics, which will hold its first meeting at the LifeChurch annex building, located at 6900 N. Haggerty Road in Canton, on April 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Families Against Narcotics, or FAN, is a grassroots organization dedicated to eliminating the stigma associated with addiction and providing families struggling with the disease the support and resources they need.  Its membership includes people and families affected by addiction, concerned citizens, law enforcement, and leaders in health care, education, business, and religion.  Founded in 2007, FAN originated in Macomb County, and now has 12 chapters throughout Michigan, including a chapter in Oakland County that is divided into nine “regions,” each with its own monthly meeting.  Until now, there has been no FAN chapter in Wayne County.

“The public and the schools are still not in tune with how pervasive this problem is, and how young and vulnerable the population is that is being targeted,” said Judge McCann.  “Families Against Narcotics will open another avenue of information, coordination and resources to communities that are very much in need.”

Judge Linda Davis of the 41B District Court will be the keynote speaker at the chapter launch meeting on April 10.  Judge Davis is the president and founder of FAN.  She also chairs Governor Snyder’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission, and is the driving force behind Hope Not Handcuffs, a program that enlists police departments and volunteers to help addicts seeking recovery find immediate treatment.  She is a frequent speaker on the subject of addiction and the opioid epidemic.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recently reported that more than 52,000 people died from drug overdose in 2015, and approximately 33,000 of those deaths were due to opioid pain pills and heroin.  Michigan has been hard hit by the epidemic, losing 1,960 residents to drug overdose in 2015, a 13 percent increase over 2014 numbers.

“There is an enormous need for more addiction resources and support for families in Wayne County,” said Brian Spitsbergen, director of Community Relations for Growth Works, an adolescent and adult addiction treatment organization in Canton.  “I regularly work with young people struggling with this disease, and I am encouraged by new efforts to support parents and other family members affected by addiction.”  Spitsbergen serves as vice president of the new FAN chapter.

Andy Hopson, a Livonia resident whose son Dakota died from a heroin overdose in May 2016, also sits on the board of directors of Northwest Wayne County FAN.  He understands addiction better than most – in addition to losing his son to the disease, he’s been in recovery from substance use disorder himself since 1991.

“A big problem in getting these families the help and support they need is the stigma surrounding addiction,” Andy says.  “Families feel embarrassed and ashamed that their loved ones are struggling with this disease, and they isolate and withdraw.  What they really need to do is reach out for help.”

Jeff Jedrusik, chief of police for the city of Westland, Michigan, sits on the new FAN chapter’s advisory board along with Judge McCann.

“Throughout my career I’ve learned that the majority of residents living in northwest Wayne County believe that heroin, cocaine and synthetic drug epidemics are inner city problems and not a suburban issue,” said Chief Jedrusik.  “Eyes are not generally opened to such problems until it affects a personal friend or a family member.  Unfortunately, this is a current epidemic that is affecting all of our communities, young people and families.” 

lauren_rousseauWMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau is a strong advocate and frequent speaker on the very personal and painful topic of addiction. She was a featured  during a Unite to Face Addiction (UFAM) statewide rally held at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on June 2, 2016.

The Northwest Wayne County FAN Chapter launch meeting on April 10th is free and open to all who would like to attend.  For more information, please go to the chapter’s web page at http://www.familiesagainstnarcotics.org/northwest-wayne, or send an email to nwwayne@familiesagainstnarcotics.org.

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