Delta inter-faith symposium focused on services, self-help for addicts

More than 150 people attended the symposium on March 30 at the Baitur Rahman Mosque on River Road.

Representatives from various faiths listen as Danial Akram speaks about the heroin addiction that began when he was 15 years old during the Delta Police Department’s inter-faith symposium on drug addiction on March 30.

Representatives from various faiths listen as Danial Akram speaks about the heroin addiction that began when he was 15 years old during the Delta Police Department’s inter-faith symposium on drug addiction on March 30.

There’s help for addicts of all faiths — both within and outside their faith communities.

That’s the message put forward during the second annual inter-faith symposium on drug addiction on March 30. More than 150 people attended the event, exceeding last year’s numbers and the police department’s expectation.

The symposium, put on by the Delta Police Department and the Baitur Rahman Mosque on River Road, featured speakers representing different religious groups: Imam Tariq Azeem and Imam Khalil Mobashir for Islam, Achariya S.P. Dwedi for Hinduism, Bishop Shane Faganello for Christianity, Balwant Sanghera for Sikhism and Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan for Judaism.

The discussion was moderated by Allison Patton, a naturopath in Surrey.

There were also presentations by DPD Sergeant Dave Vaughan-Smith, who talked about fentanyl and the B.C. opioid crisis; Sean Gisler, who works for the John Volken Academy rehabilitation centre in Surrey; and Danial Akram, a former heroin addict.

“I think Danial is the star,” Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord said about the symposium. “From his experience, to be able to share with parents, to be able to share with kids, is absolutely exceptional.”

Akram was born in Edmonton, but grew up in Pakistan. He didn’t have many of the indicators people would consider typical for a drug addict: he had a loving family, lots of friends and good marks in school.

He and his cousin experimented with drugs, starting with cigarettes at a young age. Eventually, someone introduced him to heroin, which was “cheaper than food” in Pakistan, and by 15, Akram was addicted to opioids.

In the time he was addicted, Akram said, he almost died twice, although he was never in trouble with the law. It took many failed attempts at quitting and two years at the John Volken Academy to finally get clean.

In his speech at the inter-faith symposium, Akram said the turning point in his addiction was when he lost his family.

“My mother was so broken, she was the only one that had hope for me,” he said. “I overheard conversations with my sisters and my mom, and my sisters wanted me gone for good from their lives.

“That broke me. That really killed me inside.”

Akram said during his presentation that addiction was not a moral failing, and the representatives from the various religions agreed. They outlined the types of services available for addicts in each faith community.

Many mosques offer classes and events throughout the year for youth members, Imam Tariq Azeem said. The inter-faith symposium “is one of the examples of how you can provide help in very early stages” or later on, he said.

The Church of Latter Day Saints, which Bishop Shane Faganello represents, also has programs for addicts. They’ve approached Alcoholics Anonymous to develop a 12-step program within the church. There are also counsellors available through referral from a bishop.

The Jewish community has their own addiction service centre in Richmond, administered through Jewish Family Services. This centre helps addicts with everything from finding rehab centres that serve kosher food to organizing support groups for people affected by addiction.

The Hindu community focuses more on self-help, through meditation and yoga, and the role of guardians or spiritual leaders, Achariya Dwedi said.

The Sikh community offers a mixture of self-help and practical programs, Balwant Sanghera said.

“Meditation in the name of God Almighty is the best way to get high and stay high,” Sanghera said. “If you follow the six scriptures … there’s no need for drugs.”