Church Offers Help and Hope in Fight Against Opiate Addiction

By Rick Wolcott*

The Addiction Policy Forum reports that 144 people died in the United States every day in 2016 from a drug overdose.

“This is an epidemic unlike any other,” said Elaine Georgas, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addictions Services (ADAS) Board of Lorain County.  “If more than 52,000 Americans died last year from any other illness or disease, communities would be outraged.  We have to change the conversation and understand what addiction is and how it impacts individuals, families, and communities.”

Elaine Georgas moderated the town hall meeting
Elaine Georgas moderated the town hall meeting

Georgas moderated a town hall meeting at Lorain Faith UMC (Firelands District) to address the opiate and heroin epidemic that has gripped Lorain County. The evening, co-sponsored by the ADAS Board, included four panelists and a resource fair that featured nine agencies.

Pastor Karen Hollingsworth welcomed community members to Lorain Faith UMC
Pastor Karen Hollingsworth welcomed community members to Lorain Faith UMC

“As a church in Lorain, we care very deeply about this city and we feel we can no longer be silent while families are being torn apart by heroin,” said Pastor Karen Hollingsworth.  “We believe that every life has value.  We believe that every life is worth saving and we are speaking up to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help and there is hope.”

“I came here tonight because of the hurt that is in our city because of drug addiction,” said Kyriece Brooks.  “I was very excited to see that this town hall meeting was taking place because you don’t normally see too many churches opening their doors to host a platform such as this.”

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans told the 82 people in attendance that the introduction of heroin caused opioid deaths in the county to jump from 20, in both 2010 and 2011, to 60 in 2012.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Steven Evans
Lorain County Coroner Dr. Steven Evans

“For the first time, deaths were across the entire spectrum of inner city, suburban, farm country, and they were 50-50 between male and female.  Prior to that time people dying from drug overdoses were predominantly male,” he said.  “The youngest overdose death I’ve had was a 2 year-old who got ahold of a family member’s drugs.  The oldest was a 75 year-old man who was sharing a hit of heroin with his grandson.”

Lorain Police Narcotics Detective Chris Colon
Lorain Police Narcotics Detective Chris Colon

“This drug epidemic does not discriminate, it impacts everyone,” said Narcotic Units Detective Chris Colon of the Lorain police department.

“For every person who dies there are 130 people who are addicted and there are more than 800 people using drugs inappropriately,” said Evans.  “In Lorain County, 1 out of 6 people is using drugs inappropriately.”

Evans told the crowd that opiate addiction is not a new problem.  “Three thousand years before Christ people were using opium,” he said.

What is new is how people are getting the drug.

“Eighty percent of our children start their drug habits from old prescription drugs that are in the home medicine cabinet.  That makes us as parents our child’s first drug supplier,” he said.  “This is not a criminal problem.  This is a medical problem.”

He encouraged those in the crowd to clean out their medicine cabinets and take old and unused pills to any police or fire department, which will accept them with no questions asked.

All of the panelists highlighted the partnerships that exist in Lorain County with police departments, fire departments, EMS and politicians working together to end the opiate epidemic that has placed the county in the national spotlight.

In 2014 Senator Gayle Manning (R) of Ohio Senate District 13 helped pass legislation that made Lorain County a case study for the Deaths Avoided With Narcan (DAWN) program, which enabled emergency personnel to administer the FDA-approved nasal spray Narcan to those suffering from a drug overdose.

Evans reported that police officers in the county have saved more than 300 people by administering Narcan.  Because of the program’s success, the State of Ohio made it possible for all police officers to carry the life-saving drug, and departments from across the country and around the world have asked that Lorain’s policies and procedures for the program be shared with them.

Thirteen people were trained on the administration of Narcan during the resource fair at Lorain Faith UMC.

“The DAWN program stabilized the death rate in Lorain County from drug overdose deaths, keeping deaths in the 60s in 2014 and 2015,” Evans said.  “It started a paradigm shift.  Police realized the benefit of saving lives and people were less hesitant to call in drug activity because they knew that police may be able to revive someone who was overdosing.”

But the introduction of fentanyl into the county caused drug overdose deaths to double in 2016 and Evans says that, “2017 is on pace to have more overdose deaths than last year.”

He explained that fentanyl is 50- to 100-times more powerful than morphine and heroin, and because it is a synthetic opium it that can be manufactured in a home lab without needing the opium plant.

“Users don’t know that dealers are mixing fentanyl into the heroin that they buy,” Evans said.  “So they take the same dose of heroin that they took before but because of the fentanyl that is in it the effect is much greater and the body can’t take it.”

Kim Mason addresses the crowd
Kim Mason addresses the crowd

Kim Mason has been with Lifecare Ambulance Services since 2005.  “When I started we hardly ever received calls for an overdose but in the past three years we have been overwhelmed by them.”

“We’ve lost the war on drugs,” Evans said.  “We need to change our approach and start funding prevention and treatment programs because that is the only way we are going to get out of this.”

One such agency in Lorain County is The LCADA Way, which cares for individuals and families struggling with drug and alcohol addiction by focusing on Leadership, Compassion, Awareness, Dedication, and Advocacy.

CEO Thomas Stuber said, “Drugs are more powerful and more addictive than any I can remember in my 37 years of trying to work myself out of a job in this field.  In my first year as CEO here in 1999 we had four people seek help for opiate addiction. Now it’s four people per day.”

Charlene Dellipoala is part of the team at the Lorain County Community College CARE (Caring Advocates for Recovery Education) Center, a recovery/addiction center that works with students, faculty, and staff who have addiction issues.

“When I started out I was working with students who had issues with alcohol or marijuana but now I see so many who are addicted to harder drugs,” she said.  “It breaks your heart when you think of young people who are just starting out on college careers having something like that impact them.”

“Addiction is a scary problem because it doesn’t matter what race you are, what class you are, or what gender you are,” Mason said. “It impacts not only the addict but also that person’s family, friends, and co-workers.”

“After the meeting I spoke to a man in fellowship hall who said, ‘When you help me, you help the community.’” Hollingsworth said.  “His words have stayed on my heart.  We often think that if we only help one person we are not making much of a difference.  His statement sheds a whole new light on the difference helping one person can make and how it ripples into the community.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Promoting the Understanding of a Black Theological Perspective

Black Theologian Day is October 14

By Will Jones*

Bishop James S. Thomas,
The late Bishop James S. Thomas, A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The late Bishop James S. Thomas initiated the first Black Theologian Day, during his time as episcopal leader of the East Ohio Conference, to promote the understanding of a Black theological perspective to a primarily Caucasian denomination in the United States.

All East Ohio Conference clergy and laity are invited to dive deeper into their faith and broaden their understanding by participating in Black Theologian Day 2017, to be held at Aldersgate UMC (North Coast District) in Warrensville Heights on October 14.  This year’s theme is Overcoming Fear, based on Romans 8:31.

“One of the main hindrances to doing ministry is fear.  It paralyzes us.  We have to remember as clergy and lay that if God is for us, who can be against us,” said EOC Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Steve Court.

Ms. Erin Hawkins
Ms. Erin Hawkins, General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race

Erin Hawkins the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race is this year’s guest scholar.  She is dedicated to building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and reach more people, younger people, and a more diverse people by providing practical resources and support to leaders throughout the Church to help them engage and embrace the cultural diversity present in our congregations and communities.

The ministry model of the Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) helps our conference to have vital conversations with people different than us and to deepen our ability to be culturally competent.  Black Theologian Day is an opportunity for that to happen.

The Rev. Darlene Robinson of Willard First UMC (Firelands District) has participated in several past Black Theologian Days and encourages all clergy and laity in East Ohio to attend this year’s event.

“A lively, Spirit-filled and energized time of worship will be had in the midst of an informed theological presentation, informative teaching and an opportunity for great dialogue,” she said.  “One gets to see, hear, and dialogue with an African-American scholar that one may have not known about or may never get an opportunity to see in person.”

Cost is $15 and online registration is required to attend.  Register here.

 *Will Jones is director of Multicultural Vitality for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Church Holds Service to Remember Lives Lost to Addiction

The Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office reports that “at least 187 victims have died from heroin/fentanyl or in combination” in the first four months of 2017, compared to 140 who died during the same period in 2016.

Those sobering statistics were at the root of Pastor Harlen Rife’s decision to hold a memorial service for lives lost to addiction at Pearl Road United Methodist Church in Cleveland (North Coast District).

Pastor Harlen Rife
Pastor Harlen Rife

“We are here to lift up and remember those that we have lost to addiction.  Often their struggle with substance abuse, and the way we lost them, can dominate our community’s attention leaving little room for the person underneath,” Rife said at the beginning of the Saturday, July 29 service.  “We’re here to reclaim and love those people.  We’re here to be with one another, and to remember that those struggling on this side of life are not alone.  We have each other, and above all we have God with us.”

People from the community turned out to remember loved ones, pray with parishioners of Pearl Road UMC, and speak with professional grief counselors.

“This was such a meaningful worship service and experience for people who have lost somebody,” said Juan Ramirez of First Hispanic UMC.  “I lost my father a couple of years ago and two weeks ago my wife’s uncle’s body was found after one of his so-called friends dumped it in a garbage can after he had overdosed.”

Theirs were two of 32 names read during the service to remember those who lost their life to addiction.

“I never really had a chance to grieve through my dad’s death, I was more angry at the time, and this today gave me an opportunity to actually let go,” Ramirez said.

Kevin Ringer speaks about Recovery Resources
Kevin Ringer speaks about Recovery Resources

“Addiction reaches across all parts of society.  We are seeing that especially right now with opiate addiction.  But there is hope for those who want to break the addiction and that’s what we are here to help resource,” said Kevin Ringer, prevention specialist with Recovery Resources.  He spoke with family members and East Ohio Conference clergy after the service about the agency’s services, which help clients break free from drug addiction as well as get assistance for issues of mental health.

“Because addiction is a problem for so many people I felt like this would be a good opportunity to connect with each other,” Rife said.  “The people we lost mean so much and so often they get flattened into just being someone who was addicted.  This was a chance to say that they were rounded people, complete people with their own lives and experiences and valued by God, and through that to share the message that we’re all part of that community and we’re all valued by God and we can pull together in times of need.  It was a good opportunity for folks to find some healing.”

“This is the way that we make people feel welcome by reaching out and letting God do his thing,” said Ramirez.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.