ST. JOSEPH, Mich. – This week’s State of Affairs takes us to Michigan – the world’s automotive center. The state is home to the Great Lakes and celebrities like Madonna, Kid Rock, and Eminem – and one of the fastest-growing heroin addiction problems in the U.S.
Like most other states, the drug of choice is shifting. Liquor is no longer quicker. Once less popular than marijuana or cocaine, the death count from heroin has tripled in Michigan in just a decade. State Public Health Director Nick Lyon says 180 people die each year in the state from heroin overdoses. This recently prompted Michigan’s first Heroin Summit, which hosted 500 state officials in East Lansing.
(Photo courtesy: MyFoxDetroit)
State Police Director Col. Kristie Kibbey Etue told the group that young women are believing it helps you lose weight, and they have seen people as young as 14 years old addicted. The typical user is now 18-22 years old, and 40% of the heroin addictions in Michigan are birthed out of prescription drug use. Of the 826 heroin-related deaths in the past decade, 148 (18%) had a prescription for an opioid in the 30 days prior to death. It’s a problem one grandmother isn’t facing without a fight.
“He was 2 courses from getting his degree in Agriculture at Michigan State,” Carol Stockman tells me of her grandson. “I heard it was a bad batch of heroin that got mixed up with other things.”
87-year-old Carol Stockman’s grandson, Sam Stockman, was just 24 when his life was taken late last year by a heroin addiction. The two were very close, as he lived right next door on their farm in St. Joseph.
“We thought that he was in recovery,” says Stockman. “You think everything’s okay and then all of a sudden they go back. We’re not really sure why.”
Sam’s addiction started 2 years ago. A singer and member of Americorps and student at Michigan State, the winter term in which he was scheduled to finish out his 2 courses never came.
(Carol and Sam at a picnic two years ago at Michigan State)
“When I got the news from his dad, I had just come home from a funeral luncheon at church that I had helped with,” says Stockman. “I said ‘I don’t think I can take this.’”
The grandson next door she had thought would take over the farm that had been in their family for five generations, was gone.
“He gave me a lot of joy,” says Stockman. “I know he didn’t intend to do it.”
Stockman would have to bury her close friend, neighbor, and grandson.
“God gives us strength we don’t know we have,” says Stockman. “I had to do something.”
Stockman met with the Sheriff, who connected her with outreach programs, and a group called FAN (Families Against Narcotics). It started on the east side of the state when a woman lost her daughter. The group is now working to get a chapter in every area of the state.
FAN is a grassroots organization. Since the first town hall meeting in 2007, the group holds meetings in the same church basement. They are most recently responsible for establishing a 41B District Drug Court in Macomb County.
“I’m still learning a lot about it,” says Stockman. “Since this happened, so many people have said to me, ‘I’ve got a son, I’ve got a daughter, I’ve got a neighbor.’ There are so many people that are affected. It’s so hard on a family. We’ve got to do something. We can’t lose all of our future leaders. When you’ve lived as long as I have, you see the things that are tempting you and you know you need a stronger power than yourself in your life.”
Stockman, who grew up during World War II, says that generation only knew of musicians or celebrities that used drugs, but now she sees it’s very common. Just across the state in Monroe County last month, 3 died of a heroin overdose in only 24 hours from what’s believed to be the same batch of heroin. Stockman believes if her generation doesn’t help, we could lose this one entirely. She says people her age have to teach young people that there is hope. They know because they’ve survived so long.
“I can’t just watch while it happens,” says Stockman. “I may not have many days left…but I’m going to spend it doing something.”