Pandemic worsened addiction problems in Minnesota’s East African community

Addiction is a disease that knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone regardless of their religious affiliation, family background, or socioeconomic status.

That’s the message Yussuf Shafie, who runs the Alliance Wellness Center in Bloomington, has been trying to spread in the East African community. Yussuf has encountered many who downplay or deny the addiction problem that has exerted a tight grip on young East Africans, especially Somalis. The deniers, he said, argue that substance abuse should never be an issue for Muslims, since Islam prohibits the use of alcohol and drugs.

But that religious rule doesn’t mean people aren’t trying them. In Minnesota, the abuse of powerful painkillers—such as oxycodone, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl—is cutting life short for many young Somali men and women. So much so that state health officials have enlisted the help of leaders to combat what they call “the opioid epidemic.”

Alcohol and drug abuse in the Somali community hasn’t been adequately studied, but the handful of available reports paint a grim picture. For instance, one report on substance abuse among Minnesota middle and high schoolers found in 2017, that Somali students were more likely than the state average to misuse prescription pain medications, and use marijuana and other illicit drugs.

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