THE FORGOTTEN EPEDEMIC IN THE SOMALI COMMUNITY

**ADVANCE FOR MONDAY FEB. 7 AND THEREAFTER** In a photo made Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, Minneapolis police officer Jeanine Brudenell talks with Somali young people in Minneapolis, Minn., who were on hand to sign up for a Minneapolis Police Department Citizens Academy geared toward Somali kids. At right, signing up, is Mohamed Ali and standing, Zak Warsame. Brudenell is the top Minneapolis cop who works on the Somali gang problem and serves as East African community liason. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

As the United States of America struggles with Covid-19 (C-19) and racial tensions, there is a silent killer
among Somali youth that is thriving and killing at a much higher rate than C-19. In the last few weeks,
more than ten young Somali boys and girls have been hospitalized due to a drug overdose. Three have
been confirmed dead. Opioid abuse is killing Somali youth in Minnesota at a higher rate than the
national average and resources are very limited.
As parents mourn the sudden death of their otherwise healthy children, community leaders and
politicians -alike have turned a blind eye. With Covid-19 crisis limiting schools and extracurricular
activities, the Somali youth are abusing drugs and alcohol more than ever which has also increased
violence among the youth. As reported by this publication, Somali youth were greatly affected by the
killing of George Floyd and the riots that followed. They were on the front lines of the protests in an
effort to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This chain of events has made
2020 a deadly year for the Somali youth in MN.


At one of the funerals of the deceased young men, there were over 50 people who attended and most
were young boys around the same age of the person getting buried. Yonis Mohamed, a high school
student told us that he has lost count on how many of his school mates have lost their lives to drug
overdose and violence. Mohamed said, “I cant even count with two hands how many boys I know who
died this year alone”. The funeral was held at a cemetery in Burnsville, MN; the only cemetery that
caters to Muslim families in the twin cities.
After the burial, an elderly man, perhaps a community leader gave a heartfelt speech warning the
youngsters of drugs and alcohol. Most of the youth were nodding their heads and some were even
crying. We were able to speak to Mohamed Ali, one of the friends of the deceased. He seemed dazed
and still in disbelief that he will no longer see his friend of over 10 years. Ali told us, “I will forever miss
him, he was a good kid who wanted good things for everybody, its sad that I had to bury him today”.


Friends and family alike have mourned countless other overdose deaths over the years. We reported
last year about the opioid problem among the Somali youth and how disconnected the parents are from
the lives their children are living. Not much has changed, it has in fact worsened.
Jamal Roble, a charismatic 23-year-old who has successfully recovered from Opioid addiction was happy
to let us into his journey and how he has managed to stay clean for 2 years now.

Reporter: Thank you Jamal for letting us into your journey of recovery, tell me a little bit about
yourself and how you grew up.
Jamal: Asalamu Aleykum brother and I want to thank you for giving me this platform to share my story
to help my fellow brothers and sisters in the struggle inshallah.
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. I moved to the US with my family when I was only 6 years old. I have a
loving mother, father and 7 other siblings. No one in my family spoke English when we came to the US

and I remember, we struggled for few years before we were able to figure things out. I had a very
normal upbringing with many great memories alhamdulilah.


Reporter: At what age did you find yourself abusing drugs or alcohol? What do you think made you go
over the edge?
I never abused alcohol. I tried alcohol but I just did not like how it made me feel. So, I was not a big
drinker and when I did drink I did not drink much at all. I started smoking marijuana with some friends
when I was 14 years old. I was introduced to pills by my cousin who was visiting from San Diego back in
2015. I didn’t think much of it but it wouldn’t be the last time I experimented with pills. Sometime in
2016, I noticed that some of my friends were popping pills for different reasons. Me personally, I started
popping pills regularly because it was a high that I could hide from parents. Unlike weed and alcohol,
getting high off of a pill was much more discrete. At that point I was only popping a pill or two on the
weekends instead of drinking alcohol like some of my friends did. One day, me and my younger brother
got into a fight at home and he exposed my pill stash to my parents who ended up kicking me out of the
house. My parents told me that they did not want me corrupting the other children in the family. That
was the beginning of my downfall.

Reporter: Tell me more how getting kicked out of the house has made abuse drugs?
Well, it was not that I got kicked out that made me abuse drugs but the fact that I was more exposed to
drugs now that I was sleeping on friends’ couches. I did not have a job to support myself and I did not
even know how to go about getting a job. One of my friends who was recovering from a surgery gave
me a container full of Percocet and asked me to find some buyers and we would split the profit. I had to
accept the offer because I needed money to support myself. I started popping a pill for every 5 I sell and
next thing I know, I am popping pills every day. It was a nightmare and I had no control over it.

Reporter: What happen the day you landed at the hospital?
It was the week of my birthday and I was pretty much popping pills that whole week. I remember being
extremely happy and energetic one minute and then I was woke up in a hospital bed with all kinds of
machines hooked to my body. I got so scared that I started yelling very loud. All the nurses came running
to my room and that’s when I was told I overdosed on Fentanyl laced pills. One of the nurses showed me
a transcript of my heart and how it has stopped working for few minutes while I was in the ambulance. I
ended up finding out that my friend called 911 when she walked into the house I was staying at and saw
me foaming from the mouth. I pretty much died and came back, Subhan Allah.

Reporter: I am glad you are alive Jamal, what happen after that and how did you turn things around?
While I was at the hospital, my main concern was how to keep this a secret from the whole world. I did
not want my parents, my aunties, my cousins or even my friends to find out that I had overdosed. I told
the nurse not to allow any visitors into my room. As I contemplated how to move forward with my life,

my dad and mom walked into my room. Apparently, there was a shift change and the new nurse did not
know of my no-visitor policy. As they walked into the room, I just started sobbing like a baby. Then my
mom breaks down and my dad joined her. It was literally the single saddest moment of my life. I’ve
never seen my dad cry. I never wanted to re-live this moment ever again. At that moment, I knew that I
had to turn my life around.

Reporter: That had to be a very tough moment for you Jamal, how did you end up turning your life
around?
When my parents left my hospital room, I called an old friend of mine who used to hangout with us back
in high school who also turned his life around after falling off the wagon. I knew I needed new friends
and I could not do this alone. So I asked him for help. He pretty much gave me a road map on how to
beat the pill addiction. It was hard the first couple of weeks but I knew I didn’t want to go to rehab nor
did I want to go back to pills. I just toughened it out, got closer to Allah, became closer with my parents
and siblings, formed a new group of friends from the mosque, got back into sports and here I am today
Alhamdulillah, I have been clean for over 25 months now.

Reporter: I am so happy for you Jamal, what advice would you give a young man who is in that dark
moment you lived couple of years ago?

You know, I have advice for both the kids and their parents. For parents, stop disowning your children
just because you caught them doing something horrible. They are still your children and just like every
other parent, you will cry when you go visit them in a hospital bed.
For the youngsters that are currently facing the struggle I faced, don’t be afraid to get help. It doesn’t
have to be professional help; it can be a friend or a sibling but you cant beat this thing alone. It is tough
but think of it as a war that you have to win to save your life. Find other hobbies to keep you busy and
finally, get close to Allah. I pray to see the day that my community gets over this thing inshallah.

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