The New Beginning Nazarene Church sits on a hill, with a huge parking lot that can get dark at night. While its address lists it in the Mount Airy area, it is closer to New Market, situated between farmland and a baseball field.
Approximately nine months ago, the church’s parking lot was the site of an overdose, one of a few that has happened there.
The opioid crisis can feel distant, even to members of the church’s congregation, Rev. Brian Remsch said. But the church and other faith-based communities have a role to play in the response to the opioid epidemic, from offering space for meetings, to presiding over funerals to using their platforms to address the topic.
“The church has to be a place where we welcome people and take care of people where they are,” Remsch said.
In December, the church opened its doors to the Frederick County Behavioral Health Services and the Listen Love Pray organization, allowing the two entities to hold a training on overdose response.
Approximately 30 people filled the chairs in the chapel, watching as Jay Hessler, coordinator of the Frederick County Health Department’s Local Addiction Authority, spoke about the use of Narcan/naloxone, a life-saving drug that blocks opioid receptors and reverses opioid overdoses. The crowd listened intently as Hessler discussed the opioid epidemic as a whole and how the people there could save a life. At the end of the training, each person filled out a form and received a dose of naloxone.
“Naloxone isn’t going to fix the opioid crisis,” Hessler told the group. “As we mentioned, it’s keeping people alive while they work through that process.”
In Frederick County, from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2018, there were 51 fatal overdoses, according to data kept by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. There were 51 fatal overdoses in all of 2017, according to the same data, meaning that 2018 is likely to see more fatal overdoses.
Total overdoses and non-fatal overdoses are trending down in 2018, so far. There were 254 non-fatal overdoses through Nov. 30, compared to 291 in 2017.
For Lucinda Nelson, executive director of the Listen Love Pray Foundation, those statistics are personal. Her son had a substance abuse disorder.
“Addiction is a family disease,” Nelson said. “And we all have a part to play and we can play it.”
Churches can be quite instrumental in helping to deal with the opioid epidemic, Nelson said. Pastors and priests, or other congregation leaders, often can tell who might be struggling. That also applies to funerals, she said.
They can also offer space, as New Beginning Nazarene Church did for the overdose response training.
“There’s help. There’s hope,” Nelson said. “There’s community. There’s support.”
The role extends outside of Christianity. Opioids and addiction is also discussed among the members of synagogues and mosques, and they play a tremendous role because Christianity, Islam and Judaism all have weekly gatherings.
At the mosque that Dr. Syed Haque attends, there is a sermon every Friday before prayers. During that sermon, the imam will discuss issues affecting the community. That includes opioid use, Haque said.
As a doctor, Haque said he has a good pulse on the opioid epidemic in Frederick. It doesn’t seem to be affecting the Muslim community as much, he said. That might be in part due to the family values promoted by the religion, as well as the schedule provided by prayers. There’s also a strong community, he said, which might play a preventative role.
That sense of community is important for people who are struggling with drug use, said Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, senior pastor at Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ. Faith groups are good at coming together and offering support.
“I think, first of all, faith-based communities provide community,” Daniel said.
Like the mosque, the church can also provide structure for people who need it while working toward recovery. There are faith-based recovery services that encourage or require members to attend religious services.
“I think the structure provides a foundation,” Daniel said.
Religion can also provide a sense of forgiveness, an area that churches have not always been good with, Remsch said.
“I think that’s an area where the church needs to be better at,” he said.
There is shame and stigma around substance abuse disorder. There can also be blame. Families often comment that they wish they had done something differently, Daniel said.
But the church and other religious houses can offer a place of hope. They can offer understanding that people come with deep hurt and previous mistakes. They can be the place that offers forgiveness, Remsch said.
Opioid-related overdoses in Frederick County
|Year||Non-fatal overdoses||Fatal overdoses||Total overdoses|
|2018 (through Nov. 30)||254||51||305|