In the grips: Overdose Awareness Day event in Canton on Aug. 31


Our nation is in the grips of a drug epidemic that has killed more than 630,000 people from drug overdose since 1999, and over 63,600 in 2016 alone. Michigan has been severely impacted our state is ranked 15th among all states in the rate of overdose deaths, and 10th for drug use and addiction.

On Friday, Aug. 31, the Northwest Wayne Chapter of Families Against Narcotics will recognize "International Overdose Awareness Day" by hosting an event at Heritage Park in Canton to remember those lost to addiction. The event will take place from 6-8 p.m. at Heritage Park, 1080 S. Canton Center Drive, North Pavilions 1 and 2, in Canton.

"This is our second annual event recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day, which falls on August 31st every year," said Lauren Rousseau, Northwest Wayne FAN president and Western Michigan Cooley Law School professor. "Last year's event was extremely powerful over a hundred people turned out for it. This year will be even better. We have an amazing lineup of speakers, live music, food, a flower memorial, and a butterfly release to honor those lost to addiction."

Heather DeJesus, a Northwest Wayne FAN board member, lost her 22-year-old nephew a Livonia resident to an overdose in June 2017.

"We were absolutely devastated," DeJesus says of her family's reaction to the loss. "My nephew was the sweetest, most beautiful young man, but he got addicted to heroin and just couldn't get out of its grip. The toxicology report showed fentanyl in his system, not heroin. He thought he was getting heroin, but it was pure fentanyl."

Fentanyl is an opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and is increasingly being cut into heroin sold on the streets or sold instead of heroin. Between 2013 and 2015, overdose deaths in Michigan due to fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids rose from 5.6 percent of overdose deaths to 39 percent. Preliminary calculations for 2017 indicate roughly 75 percent of fatal overdoses in Wayne County were related to fentanyl.

Andy Hopson, a Livonia resident and Northwest Wayne FAN board member, lost his 21-year-old son to a heroin/fentanyl overdose in May 2016.

"He had been turned away from a treatment facility the day before on a technicality, and we were supposed to go back so that he could be admitted the next morning. I went to the place where he was staying that morning to pick him up, and he was gone."

DeJesus and Hopson will both tell their stories at Northwest Wayne FAN's event on August 31st, along with others who have lost loved ones to the disease. Community leaders are also scheduled to speak, including Canton Township Supervisor Pat Williams; Wayne County 29th District Court Judge Laura Mack; Chief Curtis Caid of the Livonia Police Department; and Sgt. Chris Cox of the Northville Township Police Department.

"This is going to be an amazing event," said Rousseau. "Everyone is welcome to attend, free of charge. This is a chance for our community to come together to take a stand against addiction, and to give support to people who have suffered terrible loss from this disease.

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Published: Tue, Aug 21, 2018