Ohio Churches to Address Opioid Epidemic

The state of Ohio has been plagued by heroin and prescription pill abuse over the past several years. Three of the top ten cities with the most opioid abuse by population are located in Ohio. Law enforcement is overworked, and politicians are constantly asking for more money to be spent on treatment. The state has had enough. This includes its houses of God. On April 23rd, over 300 different church leaders in Ohio will address their congregations on the state’s opioid epidemic. The idea was born in a meeting held last year in St. Ambrose Church, located in Medina County, which saw 171 heroin overdoses last year by October alone – 21 of which ended lives. Father Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose, said at the meeting that there were “six funerals in seven months,” just at his church The meeting “looked into efforts currently underway to address these issues, what more should be done, and how to better use resources to reach those seeking help.”ohio-churches-addressing-heroin-epidemic

The St. Ambrose Meeting

Approximately 30 people attended Father Stec’s meeting, however seemingly every target audience was covered. Politicians, members of law enforcement, substance abuse workers, representatives of local schools, hospitals, and churches, recovering addicts, and family of those who have died at the hands of drugs.. all attended. One main focus was the stigma of addiction. In general, the public views drug addicts and alcoholics in a rather negative light. Father Stec believes there must be “an open dialogue about it,” as opposed to shame. Medina County Sheriff Tom Miller agrees: “Families are suffering [and] are keeping it quiet. Unless we can talk openly, it is impacting on all families, churches, businesses. We need to work to remove that ‘shame,’ if you will, to get them help.” Another main focus was how to spread the message of sobriety. Ideas brought up during the meeting included utilizing the resources of both law enforcement and local schools in order to “reach families more directly,” as well as creating community artwork that would “create a culture of sobriety,” as said by F. Christopher Reynolds, a teacher, singer, shaman, and Medina County resident.

Greater than Heroin

The meeting at St. Ambrose served a double purpose. The main idea was to get the community together and talking, but Father Stec had something hidden up his sleeve. At the meeting, he introduced his outreach program called Greater than Heroin. The crown jewel of the program is its website, greaterthanheroin.com. The site is a virtual launching pad for anyone who wants to become involved in fighting the heroin epidemic, whether in Ohio or not. It offers information on how to help a loved one who is addicted. It offers resources for starting your own treatment advocacy campaign. It even offers a way to find a treatment center near you. Most importantly, it brings members of a heroin-addled community together to help fight the good fight. When Father Stec introduced his program at the St. Ambrose meeting, he was met with unanimous support. Local businesses and organizations pledged to link to the Greater than Heroin website on their own sites. Amy Rutledge, communications director of Brunswick City Schools, said, “We could add this to our library of resources, specifically resources directed toward children.” She went on to say she would add the site to Brunswick schools’ health resource webpages, as well as to the Be In The Know campaign, a statewide effort to address drug/alcohol abuse and underage sex.

Church in Ohio on April 23rd

Greater than Heroin is still going strong. Father Stec must have seen a lot of positive changes come from discussions at the meeting last year. In fact, Father Stec saw so much potential in talking that he recently asked [hyperlink] over 300 church leaders in Ohio to address the state’s epidemic on April 23rd to their church congregations. “We are asking all the faith leaders to talk about what this is, why it is important, and what we can do about it,” said Father Stec to Cleveland’s website, linked above. “We have got to do something and we have to do it together. We’re not talking about it enough…” he added. All 300+ church leaders will participate in their own way. Reverend Donis Williams, of Brunswick Church of the Nazarene, plans to take things one step further. Rev. Williams plans to address the opioid epidemic using facts and statistics, but also plans to have a local married couple speak about how the epidemic has affected them directly. “Everybody is trying to find a solution, and I think we’ll find that we are all a piece of the puzzle,” said Rev. Williams.

Not the First Time

Although Father Stec’s program is a shining example of what’s being done to fight Ohio’s opioid epidemic, it is not exactly the first of its kind. In 2014, there was one week when 15 fatal heroin overdoses occurred in Hamilton County alone. Four of the county’s pastors came together and formed Hope Over Heroin, an outreach program that has since helped thousands of Ohio residents. The main focus of the program is “uniting dozens of addiction and grief recovery resources at one location, providing instant accessibility for those in urgent need…” This includes using ‘prayer warriors’ and evangelizing in the most heavily affected areas of the state. Also, the program directors understand that multiple resources are required in order to truly make a difference in an addict’s life.

Wait, there’s More

Illinois is two states to the west of Ohio, and is experiencing its own rise of opioid abuse. Religious leaders in DeWitt County have had enough, and are taking action, much like Father Stec did a few hundred miles east. “It’s become such an inexpensive way to catch the high, the five dollar hit. It’s a big problem, and we’re offering hop for anyone who is struggling with it,” said Pastor Joe Bowman of Heartland Community Church. Earlier this year, another local church, First Christian, played a documentary called Addicted to Death for its congregation. Pastor Bowman followed suit, as did several other churches in the area. The documentary was created by the Faith-Based Heroin Coalition of DeWitt County, something very similar to Ohio’s Greater than Heroin. The film included local law enforcement stating that the county hadn’t seen heroin around in 15 years, and then in just nine months, half a dozen Clinton residents alone fatally overdosed. Another section of the film showed a local recovering addict claim she could “get heroin in Clinton within 10 minutes from one of multiple sources.” The resources for helping heroin addicts are already out there, according to Greg Taylor, a member of the Faith-Based Heroin Coalition and a local minister. “This gives us the opportunity to talk about what resources are available and to also let everyone know that they aren’t alone,” said Taylor, who also called heroin a “serious problem in our community.” Pastor Joe Bowman offers a program at his Heartland Community Church called Stepping into Freedom, and is available to anyone with any type of addiction. Decatur First Nazarene, another local church, runs a similar program called Celebrate Recovery. Perhaps the most powerful words about Illinois’ growing problem were spoken by Mike Burkham, who is not a clergyman of any sort. Burkham lost his stepson in 2009 to heroin, and recently attended a screening of Addicted to Death. He told the Herald-Review (linked above) the following: “The devil roams the face of the Earth seeking who he can devour. Right now, he’s in the streets of Decatur. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.” Burkham’s words ring brilliantly true.

The Violence of Silence

In a nutshell, the American method for fighting drug abuse over the past handful of decades has been the same. Throw anyone and everyone who has illicit drugs into jail. View and treat drug users as criminals and low-lives. Even alcoholics aren’t far from this bottom rung of society – and that’s probably only because alcohol is legal. If and when people die from drugs or alcohol, it’s basically their own fault, since they chose to do that to themselves. Even worse than viewing addicts as criminals and having them be treated as such by law enforcement is the silence of it all. The stigma surrounding addicts, and the fact that it is all so taboo – that’s one thing. Staying silent about what is now an addiction epidemic, just because it’s surrounded by stigma, now that’s a travesty. I am not particularly religious, however I did attend a Catholic high school, and I was essentially raised Catholic, even though I’ve only ever been to church a few times. Still, I understand the power of the Bible. Some of its passages hold deep truth, and not just for people of faith. Many are familiar with what it likely the Bible’s most popular verse, John 3:16. Yet there is a line, John 2:16, which can be applied to addiction: “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.” Now, I interpret the word ‘Father’ here not to mean one single, Christian God, but rather a term for God in general, whatever it may be. Even for an Athiest, I would say ‘Father’ simply means anything not found on Earth. This verse is simply saying that there are dangers in this life that will tempt you, but they are Earthly only. They are a result of the Big Bang, essentially, in the end just stuff, substances. Avoid them and you can maintain your path to becoming who you want to become.

A Final Quote

Religious leaders, law enforcement, politicians, and drug addicts all met up in Ohio to discuss how bad the heroin epidemic is. Their main goal? To change the public opinion of addicts from one of ‘dirtbag’ to one of ‘diseased.’ Proper funding for treatment will not come until everyone understand addiction is a disease and once it takes hold, without treatment, it will kill. I want to leave you with one final quote, and it’s not form any holy book or priest. It’s actually from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It’s a little lengthy, but it says well what Father Stec and others are trying to say, and it comes from a power player in the fight against addiction. Read it carefully, and you will feel its truth: Many do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.

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