Families against narcotics talks ways to educate about opiate addictions

GVL / Emily Frye
Phil Pavona

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Phil Pavona

Sanda Vazgec

There is a stereotype surrounding what a heroin addict may look like or what their upbringing was. But the reality is opiate addiction takes anyone as its prey with no discrimination whatsoever.

This was the guiding topic in the Families Against Narcotics (FAN) drug talk presented at Grand Valley State University Tuesday, Sept. 13.

The keynote speaker, Phil Pavona, shared his personal journey of dealing with his son’s heroin addiction and emphasized the holes he found in the judicial and treatment systems.

Pavona’s son Eric graduated from Okemos High School and went on to attend college. While Pavona was proud of his son, he was completely unaware Eric was developing an addiction to heroin whilst away at school.

It wasn’t until his son was arrested for possession of narcotics that Pavona realized the gravity of the situation. His son had dropped his classes and collected the tuition refund money to spend on drugs.

Pavona worked in health care for over 30 years and was confident that he could use his connections to help his son go through treatment, but not even his avenues to resources could help them through what he calls a fractured system.

His son had many bouts in and out of jail for possession, he attended 12-step meetings and counseling, but nothing was working. Pavona said the judicial system would only follow their correctional procedures instead of helping the family find treatment.

“We had to take an eye off of treating his disease in order to fight the court,” Pavona said. “Instead of spending time supporting our son’s illness, we were fighting to keep him out of jail.”

After battling with addiction for a few years, Pavona’s son eventually succumbed to his disease and died in 2011. While receiving condolence phone calls Pavona realized there were dozens of people affected by heroin addiction.

He then decided to make it his mission to help educate families on how to help and support loved ones dealing with substance abuse and abolish the stigma that surrounds heroin addiction.

He started the Okemos/Ingham County chapter of FAN, an organization dedicated to saving lives while empowering individuals and communities to prevent and eradicate addiction.

“We lost the battle, I don’t want to lose the war,” Pavona said.

He also went on to talk about the leading factors and causes of opiate addiction citing the prolonged use of prescription painkillers to be the main gateway.

Pavona is now a trained family peer recovery coach and stresses the importance of understanding how at-risk young adults and college students are to addiction.

He said those in the drug trafficking business target college students because they are away from their home support systems and have many influences around them.

Attendees of the event were open to ask questions and Pavona was available after the event to personally provide more information.

“It was really informational and relatable,” said Brianna Hendee, GVSU student. “When a speaker shares a personal story like that it really makes an impact on you.”