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Robert Shakhan: Fight opioid addiction or brace for the worst

Robert Shakhan: Fight opioid addiction or brace for the worst
Photo credit: Robert Shakhan

Father and community advocate Robert Shakhan is a recovery coach for the Detroit Recovery Project Inc. His passion is bringing healing to people who have experienced trauma or severe life stressors due to drug addiction.

As a certified drug and alcohol counselor, Shakhan is trained in treatment, recovery support and relapse prevention. He will be one of the specialists in addiction and recovery who are scheduled to speak at Detroit Recovery Project’s Black Men’s Healing Conference: Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic on Friday, Sept. 14, in Detroit.

Before the conference, Shakhan shared insights with rolling out about the holistic community response needed to put addicts on the road to recovery.

Why is this conference important when it comes to healing men in the Black community?

Without good physical and mental health, the community cannot be completely healed.  Medical health conditions can cause changes in how we think and feel. Mental health conditions venture far beyond that. Without proper treatment, either of these health conditions can make day-to-day life very hard.

The conference will serve to enlighten and encourage, [with] the end result being a strengthened Black community. Hopefully brought to light will be informational workshops that address heart, cancer, diabetes, blood pressure, prostate disease, fitness and all the available roads to better health.

How would you describe the opioid addiction epidemic’s impact on the Black community?

The impact to the Black community is that opioid addictions have doubled. … While the media tends to focus on the uptick in opioid deaths centered in suburban, White and middle-class America, it is also seeping into our communities. The problem with this “seeping,” or slow movement, is that funds and attention are not directed to the Black community to aid in preventing these addictions reaching epidemic proportions. Media today use the term “less affected,” but the keyword should be “affected.” We need to get out in front of this problem or prepare to deal with a crisis of great magnitude. Do the math. What could we as treaters fear most?

What can health professionals do to provide education through community organizations about health and the opioid epidemic?

Opioid addiction is a mental health crisis that can suffocate our communities. This is no Band-Aid-fixable condition. It will not be controlled by law enforcement, jail or short-term strategy. We as treaters have got to latch on for the long-haul. We first need to “posse up,” that is to partner with community-building service; churches; local law enforcement; schools, with teachers and guidance counselors trained in trauma-focused care; [and] nonprofits and healthcare coalitions with trained practitioners and educators. Direct users to evidence-based counseling and intervention services, create regulations, teach sober socializing, advertise, and make recovery available.

How does economics play a role in the opioid addiction epidemic?

Being wealthy or poor has little to do with the propensity for addiction. Parental substance abuse, lack of education, abuse and neglect, genetics, mental health and low self-esteem definitely play a role. All create very strong links to drug addiction. Statistics prove all these deficits, singularly or jointly, contribute to people’s desire to remove themselves from pain and traumatic circumstances — the one thing drugs accomplish.

What is the emotional language that men should be aware of and communicate better?

We need to be aware of the pre-existing personality of a potential user. Rather than focusing 100 percent on the drug, men should focus on the user and his [or] her stressors. We should always portray a positive understanding of what could possibly motivate an addict to seek drugs and then direct them to treatment. They should definitely have the mindset of being positive, upstanding role models who actively participate in community events, speak firmly and directly with youth, [and] connect with parents and community leaders. We must be concerned about homelessness, hunger, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, [and] parental guidance or lack thereof.

What recommendation do you have for health checkups and developing better health regimens for Black men?

I personally recommend seeking out healthcare professionals, physical, dental and of course mental. Fitness should certainly be a priority. For those who for economic reasons do not have access to the needed services, seek community service groups [that] will then direct you to low-cost free services. If you have fallen into alcoholism or drug addiction, please call the Detroit Recovery Project for help with recovery or referral for medical or mental health issues at (313) 365-3100.

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