DEARBORN: Despite an abundance of studies and preventive efforts, drug addiction is growing more than ever in the US, including at alarming rates in the Arab-American community, leaders in Greater Detroit have told Arab News.
There were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2019 and 93,000 last year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Today, drug abuse among youth in particular is a high public-health concern as at least one in eight teenagers, some as young as 13, use an illicit substance. Drug use increased 61 percent between 2016 and 2020.
Half of teenagers have misused a drug at least once, and it is estimated that 43 percent of college students use illicit drugs.
“The issue of drugs and its catastrophic consequences on the youth of the Arab-American community has become apparent to any sane person,” Imam Mardini, the imam of the American Islamic Center in the city of Dearborn, told Arab News.
“Everyone is at risk. We’ve had cases from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and some were even from wealthy conservative families.”
Adel Mozip, a Dearborn school board trustee, told Arab News: “Drug abuse is alive in the Detroit community, where youth lose their lives consistently due to overdoses and addiction, and Arab and Muslim students are impacted greatly.”
Dr. Omar Reda — a board-certified psychiatrist, Harvard-trained trauma expert, author and family advocate — advised parents: “You can detect the symptoms of drug use by monitoring certain changes in children such as language, behavior, weight loss, sleep disturbance, tendency to be secretive, skin marks, or even leaving home. Some other dangerous symptoms might include delusions, hallucinations, violence, or expressing suicidal thoughts.”
He said the main social and behavioral reasons for youth drug addiction in Arab communities are isolation — which has become worse since the coronavirus pandemic — marginalization, despair, poor family and social support, and stigma because of cultural and religious taboos.
Takween Katrous, mental wellness coordinator at the American Islamic Center, told Arab News: “Many young adults in the Arab community have self-esteem issues and can be affected by peer pressure because they’re eager to fit in, and can easily succumb to societal pressures.”
She said there is a clear lack of emotional support from immigrant parents, including from Arab and Muslim communities, due to generational differences that lead to misunderstanding and conflict within families.
Mozip said part of the problem is related to the easy accessibility of drugs. As such, doctors and pharmacists should “stop writing prescriptions that lead to addiction, and in addition they must closely monitor their patients.”
Experts said another important factor is the stigma surrounding mental health in the Arab community, as parents prefer to hide family problems than deal with them because of perceived shame.
In this context, Mardini advises parents to pinpoint the problem and confront it courageously at an early stage. Mozip said: “Please don’t be ashamed of treating your child.”
As for the role of the community in confronting this issue, Katrous said: “It should offer youth more recreational programs in order to make sure they’re preoccupied with activities that benefit them emotionally, physically and academically.”
Until authorities find effective solutions to the problem, and Arab and Muslim communities acknowledge and take it more seriously, drug addiction will worsen, Arab community leaders warn.
They say local communities, religious institutions and families must work together with openness, sincerity and solidarity to save their children.