Talk about “It takes a village,” how about an entire community!  In 2007 after two opioid deaths in two weeks—30 deaths over the year—the people in the small town of Fraser on the east side of Michigan were scared and angry. That’s when Christ United Methodist Church opened its doors to over 100 community members who gathered to do something about it.

Thus was FAN born, Families Against Narcotics. And the makeup of those attending that first night became the blueprint for the 20-plus FAN chapters that formed in Michigan over the following years. FAN meetings bring together: Grieving families. Health professionals. Law enforcement. Young people in recovery. Religious leaders.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan, FAN chapter gathers monthly at St. Marks Church, and the September 3, 2019, meeting typified how FAN works. Families who have lost a loved one to this epidemic gather for an hour before the meeting starts to share a time of grieving together. At seven the meeting begins in the main room where an easel in the back holds a poster board filled with rows of black-and-white photographs that could come out of any high school or college year book. Except these attractive young men and women will never graduate. They’ve all died from opioid/heroin overdoses.

Dr. Jeanne Kapenga, an addiction specialist, opens the meeting by asking the assembled group to go around the room saying why they are there.  Some—too many—say because they’ve lost a son or daughter to an overdose. One young woman has just lost the father of her child. Several speak about gratitude for being in recovery. One grandmother shares the news she’s waited so long for: her late grandson’s drug dealer is finally going to prison. Pastors from St. Marks are there. Seth, a director from the Guiding Light Mission that offers shelter for the homeless and the addicted—often one and the same—introduces himself.

A Kent County Health Department official reinforces the fact that this epidemic is not a moral, but a medical issue. Two judges, Bill Kelly and Joe Rossi, and Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker are there along with two Kent County sheriffs to represent the commitment of law enforcement to  MAT: Medication-Assisted Treatment in the jails. A prescription medicine like Naltrexone blocks the cravings, reduces the agonies of withdrawal, and gives the brain of the inmate addicted to opioid/heroin enough time without the narcotics to begin healing and gives the incarcerated person the chance to enter a recovery center after discharge.

FAN always has speakers and this night it’s Rae Green and Marilyn Spiller from the local Sanford House men’s and women’s residential treatment centers. The women’s program was the first and is housed in a lovely Victorian mansion built by the Sanford family in the mid-19thCentury.

In her talk “Brain 101,” Rae outlines how the almond-sized amygdala or hindbrain—also called the lizard brain and for Rae the FRAT brain—is where humans’ primal, survival instincts are housed. Food. Flght. Flight. Fear. Fornication to carry on the species. Once the FRAT almond in the back of the brain gets addicted to drugs or alcohol, the thinking front part of the brain Rae calls The Executive loses its power to control decisions.

Because of private insurance’s limits, the average length of stay is 22 days. Sanford’s owner Rae Green would like to keep clients longer and she can do that with private pay.  But Sanford House also offers long-term, out-patient treatment that helps people in recovery get to the crucial first year when the FRAT brain has lost its power to shut down The Executive.

The Vietnam War started in 1955 and ended in 1975 taking 58,220 American lives over those twenty years. The opioid epidemic began in 1999 and 18 years later has killed over 700,000 Americans. Here are the real stories of the real people among those 700,000. This video will break your heart.