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Suha Iqbal Story
AmeriCorps Community Training for Overdose Rescue
By: Suha Iqbal
It was my first time driving alone to this city. I had traveled this path many times before, but everything feels longer when you spend that time alone. I missed a few exits on the highway, and finally, I found myself in a familiar town. A home away from home at a mosque I first stepped foot in as a middle schooler.
I was wearing my nicest sweater as I stumbled through the doors, down the stairs, and into the basement where my team members were, ready to provide overdose rescue training to members of the mosque. At first I forgot my nerves; the uncle who takes care of the mosque was looking for the projector and screen. I was able to distract myself with the details of setting up the projector, adjusting my scarf, and putting pens on tables. People started to filter in after the afternoon prayer, and I stood there waiting to deliver a presentation about how to recognize and respond in opioid overdose emergencies. I was unsure how our audience would receive our message.
Three lanky boys came into the room, my cousins, followed by other members of the mosque, and I remembered why I was nervous. In my experience this community’s general attitude towards substance use is severe disapproval. Taboo hardly covers it; all I heard about substances growing up was “Say no”, “God will punish you”, or just sheer silence, as if it was too shameful to even speak of. This attitude developed out of fear. Our immigrant parents thought that they would lose their children to the culture, religion, and values of this foreign land. They feared their sacrifices would be for naught. However, this pervasive stigma surrounding substance use has prevented my community from having honest conversations about it, and more importantly, knowing what to do if someone experiences an emergency.
With my cousins in the front row and a room full of young people who grew up similarly to me, I began my presentation. I gripped my clicker and wiped the sweat off my palms. I looked at everyone, at no one, at the light beaming onto the screen, and at the screen itself. I completed the presentation and successfully answered all of the participants’ questions. I was worried that I would be met with pushback due to the information I shared on stigma and the Muslim community, but I was met with praise and interest. To hold a session for my community was groundbreaking in and of itself: a community which shamed people away from discussing substances now received a session based in harm reduction.
Breaking the stigma surrounding substance use and connecting communities with lifesaving information is what ACT sets out to accomplish. When I went to my cousins’ house after the training, my aunt asked me what naloxone was – a woman who never mentioned opioids in front of me. My cousins were explaining what they had learned in the session to our family, our immigrant parents, who had raised us with fear. This time though, I saw interest in their eyes. “Training the community is important work” replaced the stigma-laden phrases they had raised me with. In one family, this session broke barriers in a way I hadn’t thought possible. Every attendee at this mosque had learned how to intervene, but more importantly, they learned how to hold space for those with SUD and went on to teach others. Every stone we throw ripples much further than we know, and this training was the first stone in helping Muslims with SUD.