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Posted: 12/11/13

FAN shows reality of
drug problems in youths

Observer Staff Writer
      Andrew Fortunato spoke candidly to local parents and school administrators about being a recovering addict, letting them know he was in the local area when he used.
       "When I heard Armada, my radar went off like 'yeah, I did a lot of partying in Armada,'" he said. "I was in your community with your kids at your schools at your house doing what we were doing at the time."
       The Northwest Macomb Prevention Coalition (NWMPC) met with Families Against Narcotics (FAN) in November to learn about the reality and stigmas of drug abuse in local youths.
       The NWMPC is a drug and alcohol prevention group made up of law enforcement, prevention specialists, parents, school administrators and others from communities like Armada, Richmond and Romeo.
       NWMPC member Judge Denis LeDuc of the 42-1 District Court in Romeo confirmed that there is a drug problem in the area. He said his court handles cases related to opiates four to five times a week.
       "I am seeing heroin a couple times a week," he said. "A lot of these are local addresses."
       The 42-1 court is working on becoming a drug and alcohol court with the county, which would give alternatives to offenders aside incarceration.
       Outside of the courts, though, Fortunato said it is up to the community to help battle the problem by talking and taking action. Fortunato is a board member of FAN, a group started in 2007 in Fraser in an effort to change the face of addiction, the stigmas that go with it and the dangers of drug abuse.
       The death of two Fraser graduates due to opiate abuse spurred the group into action, including law enforcement, parents, religious groups and other citizens. FAN now has five chapters in communities like Lapeer and Saginaw.
       Recovering addicts in FAN speak about their stories to give a different perspective on the problem. Fortunato said the stigma of drug addiction is that someone going down such paths isn't a good person, or that something must be wrong with the family raising them. He said this leads to a denial of drug problems.
       "These aren't bad people, they're just people doing bad things," he said.
       As an example, he said he grew up in a supportive Italian-American family, but he started using drugs through alcohol and smoking weed. Instead of gateway drugs, he refers to it as a "gateway process" that is similar to telling a lie.
       "You get away with it, and it just makes it easier to tell that next lie, and that next lie is a little bit bigger," he said.
       Margaret Brune, a member of FAN, is one of many parents who believed that drugs wouldn't be a problem for her family. This made it all the more shocking when she discovered her son was addicted to heroin after he was arrested in 2007 during a drug sting.
       "It's not our thief living on the street, it's your honor roll student, star athlete, neighbor, co-worker, the kid next door," she said. "Good kids from good homes."
       She said she understands community members not being involved because of the stigma or that they don't have personal experiences, but argued that being informed is a good step to solving the problem.
       "You always hope that it will never happen to you, but you need to prepare yourself for things that may come," she said.
       Brune said opiate addiction starts with pills like Vicodin, OxyContin or Percocet and can lead to heroin abuse due to heroin being cheaper to buy. She said in 2011, 400 young adults died of opiate overdoses in Macomb County.
       "We're losing a whole generation of young people and nobody wants to talk about it," she said.
       FAN meets every third Tuesday of the month from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Christ United Methodist Church on Garfield Road in Fraser. For more information, visit
       The NWMPC meets on Thursdays once a month at the 42-1 District Court in Romeo. The next meeting is at 8 a.m. on Dec. 19.

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Retrieved 4/24/2014 at 9:34:13 AM.
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