Group will ‘Run Drugs Out of Town’

By: Maria Allard | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 1, 2013

 Erica Pettyes, 9, of Clinton Township, finishes strong with her dad, Mike Pettyes, of Clinton Township, during the fourth annual “Run Drugs Out of Town” in 2012.

Erica Pettyes, 9, of Clinton Township, finishes strong with her dad, Mike Pettyes, of Clinton Township, during the fourth annual “Run Drugs Out of Town” in 2012.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FRASER — About five years ago, David Winowiecki received a phone call in the middle of the night that became a nightmare.

Someone dropped off his stepson at a local hospital after the young man overdosed on prescription pills and alcohol at a “pharm party.”

“(Kids) bring a handful of pills they throw in a bowl, mix it up and wash it down with alcohol,” Winowiecki said.

After receiving the news, Winowiecki woke up his wife, Debby, and they raced to the hospital where their son had turned “blue” and was revived.

“He came out of it and spent one night in the hospital,” Winowiecki said. “It’s a moment I don’t want any parent to experience. It’s a surreal moment. You’re almost floating. If you’re not religious, you find religion real quick.”

The Winowieckis were soon on a mission to help their son.

“When we first learned of our son’s addiction, we didn’t know where to turn,” Winowiecki said. “We lived like hermits. We were ashamed. We were afraid we would be labeled and he would be labeled.”

Winowiecki’s stepson, now 26, is doing well and lives out-of-state.

Winowiecki is on the advisory board of Families Against Narcotics (FAN), in existence since 2007. The all-volunteer organization works to educate the public about drug addiction, support those affected by it and reduce the stigma of addiction. 

FAN partners with insurance companies, medical professionals, legislators, the legal community, public safety, families and friends, facilitating change in the way addiction is viewed and treated.

On July 13, the Fraser-based organization will hold its annual “Run Drugs Out of Town” fundraiser. The event offers a 5k non-competitive walk and a 5k/10k run that begins and finishes on the athletic field of Fraser High School, 34270 Garfield. Walk-up registration is at 7 a.m., and the walks/run begin at 8 a.m. Teams with 25 or more participants receive an event table in the tent area.

The races depart the athletic field and enter onto Garfield. The route will continue north on Garfield up to 15 Mile, turn right and then go south onto Klein. It will continue through different streets and will end up back at the athletic field. After the races, an awards ceremony will be held, with medals presented for different age groups and genders.

Entry fee is $30 for adults 18 and older, and $15 for students, college students younger than 21 and senior citizens 62 and older. To register online, visit www.families againstnarcotics.org. Walk-up registration will also be available from 5-8 p.m. July 12 at Art Van Furniture, located on Gratiot Avenue between 14 Mile and 15 Mile roads.

FAN consists of parents and other family members whose loved ones are battling drug addiction, have rehabilitated or have passed away from drugs or alcohol abuse. Other FAN members are concerned citizens, judges, members of law enforcement and recovering addicts.

Group members visit schools, senior citizen centers, town hall meetings and community groups around the state to share personal stories. The group began in Fraser and has various chapters, including Lapeer and Saginaw.

“Real people share stories,” Winowiecki said. “We can go out and spread our word.”

Andrew Fortunato, on the FAN Board of Directors, is open about his addiction to prescription painkillers — pills he referred to as opiates — and his recovery. The 2004 Fraser High School graduate has been sober since September 2011. He learned about FAN through a friend, who also was on the road to recovery. With FAN, Fortunato immediately began sharing his story.

“I think Fraser High School was the first school I spoke at,” the 27-year-old Fraser resident said. “Through doing that, it gave me the opportunity to be of service. For so long, all I did was take, take, take. It was nice to put others first.”

Fortunato’s introduction to prescription drugs came at age 15 after he suffered a closed head injury.

“When I went to the hospital, they gave me morphine and sent me home with Tylenol 3s,” he said. “I didn’t realize they were bad for you. Opiates are more socially acceptable to do than cocaine or heroin. Before you know it, you go from recreational drugs to physically and chemically dependent on them.

“By graduation, I knew it was an issue,” he said. “Within a year after graduation, I had a real, real problem.”

Taking the pills made him feel “numb” and allowed him to “escape” from reality. He underwent treatment in 2007, but went “back to using.”

It has been almost two years since Fortunato became clean.

“It’s a 180-degree turn. I’m OK with myself. I like myself. I don’t want to hurt myself,” he said. “I’m a brother to my sisters. I’m a son to my parents.”

Fortunato is employed with a heating and cooling company and is working toward a social work degree at Wayne State University. His goal is to become an addiction counselor.

He likes the atmosphere of FAN. It gives members a chance to learn from each other, addict to non-addict and vice versa. 

FAN meets the third Tuesday of the month from 7-9 p.m. at Christ United Methodist Church, 34385 Garfield Road in Fraser. All are welcome to attend. For more information or to register for Run Drugs Out of Town, call (586) 438-8500, email fraser@familiesagainstnarcotics.org or visit www.familiesagainstnarcotics.org.

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