By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As the opioid crisis continues in Minnesota, the Somali-American community is facing a new challenge.

Therapists on the front lines tell WCCO as many as six teens, one as young as 13 years old, have died in just the last month — and the exact number of overdose deaths is hard to track.

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For the past several months, many in the Somali community have been suffering in silence. Yussuf Shafie, CEO of Alliance Wellness Center in Bloomington, sees firsthand the devastating impact opioids is having on his community.

“The opioid addiction is increasing in the Somali community. A lot of these young folks are using Percocet, a lot of them use Xanax and benzos,” Shafie said. “Every Friday there is a prayer, so we have been to more funerals than Friday prayers, so we have had more overdosesdeaths in the past six weeks than ever.”

But the cause of death is hard to track, as religious objections prevent autopsies in most cases. Khadar Abi knows some of the young people who lost their battle with addiction.

“It starts off from 13 to 22 years old, and it’s specifically people from my generation,” Abi said.

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Khadar, a former client at Alliance Wellness Center, now volunteers to help erase the stigma surrounding addiction and help others lead a life free of opioids.

“The stigma is when somebody is addicted and have a mental illness problem that they can’t be saved, and our journey is showing people that there is change by experience and by education,” Abi said.

Alliance Wellness Center is one stop shopping, providing medicated assisted treatment for opioid abuse and mental health services. Yussuf wants his community to know.

“There is help available. You are not alone. We are here to help you. We want you to seek help and talk to a professional,” Shafie said.

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Yussuf and Khadar are working with Vahalla Place and the Steve Rummler Hope Network. They’re providing education and Narcan to the community. Already, one mother says the antidote helped her save her child from an overdose.

Reg Chapman