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Muslim Mental Health Conference to tackle opioid epidemic in Michigan

Mar 16, 2016

Dr. Farha Abbasi, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University.
Credit Derrick L. Turner / Michigan State University

The eighth annual Muslim Mental Health Conference is taking place in Dearborn this week with a wide range of topics on the schedule. Everything from Islamophobia and extremism to interfaith training for people who are working with American Muslim families will be discussed.

However, a new topic is being introduced at this year’s event that has gotten the attention of the conference’s organizer. Dr. Farha Abbasi, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, says the problem of opiate addiction in the Muslim community hasn’t received the attention it deserves. She is aiming to change that at this year's conference.

According to Abbasi, a recent study shows that drug overdoses in Michigan have quadrupled since 1999. The age group hit hardest with this epidemic is young people, ages 18-25. However, Abbasi was concerned with how these numbers are impacting Muslims in the state.  

“When I go back and look at what’s happening in the Muslim community, I was really concerned that there is no studies done, no research done, and we have no idea of the level of the problem,” said Abbasi.
 

When it comes to the Muslim community, I just feel that religion is so central to the identity that imams have a very important role to play as stakeholders in mental and physical health and resiliency of the community

The conference is the largest ongoing conference for Muslims in academic settings and it will add another milestone: Abbasi said it will be the first opiate awareness training.

“The biggest concern with opiates is it’s very different from other substance abuse. These are prescription meds,” said Abbasi. “This could be prescribed to you for something simple like an ankle twist, a simple fracture, a toothache – and people don’t realize how scary these meds are. Some of these meds are lying around in the house, so even if it wasn’t prescribed to you, somebody else can start using it without even understanding how dangerous these meds can be.”

According to Abbasi, the goal is to create awareness of the epidemic at the conference. The hope is to ultimately minimize the use of opiates and to keep people from taking the next step toward heroin, which is much cheaper and has a significantly higher overdose rate.

With as many as 30 to 40 imams committed to attending the event, Abassi said religious leaders of all faiths have an important role to play in attacking this epidemic.

“When it comes to the Muslim community, I just feel that religion is so central to the identity that imams have a very important role to play as stakeholders in mental and physical health and resiliency of the community,” said Abassi.   

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the conference and the impact opiates have had on the Muslim community.