Local churches teaming up to fight opioid crisis

Churches in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia are teaming up to fight the opioid epidemic. A group of concerned citizens from faith-based organizations came together to create the Holy...

Churches in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia are teaming up to fight the opioid epidemic.

A group of concerned citizens from faith-based organizations came together to create the Holy Friendship Collaborative in order to fight the crisis from a faith-based perspective.

“I think churches are probably the most under-utilized in this. You have a large group of people who care, who want to help but may not have those resources,” said Dr. Andi Clements, who is a psychology professor at East Tennessee State University and a member of the collaborative. She said the collaborative started about two years ago as a grassroots effort when people from the business, education, and treatment communities came together to discuss the epidemic from a faith-based perspective.

Dr. Clements said the collaborative recently won a $200,000 federal planning grant allowing them to create an official non-profit organization and invite area churches to develop solutions to help those addicted.

“Opioid addiction has significantly harmed our region and created a critical need to act swiftly,” she said. “We have developed an innovative approach by mobilizing houses of worship to act on the Biblical mandate to help those who are suffering.”

Dr. Clements believes this approach is very different from other efforts to fight the epidemic. “The reason I think this is different is a lot of what we’ve been trying to do is address the supply of opiates,” Dr. Clements said. “We don’t have a supply problem. We have a demand problem. It’s people who need that substance and if we don’t address why they need that substance and we don’t take care of that piece it’s not going to be opioids it’ll be something else.”

Dr.Clements said the grant will allow the Holy Friendship Collaborative to hire a facilitator to help mobilize churches to help. “Some are talking about developing transitional housing or mentoring people who are struggling with addiction, having meetings at their churches where they have Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, {and} other kinds of recovery meetings.”

Dr. Clements also said other churches are interested in addressing practical needs and could collect food, clothing and other essentials that people struggling with addiction might need to get back on their feet. Dr.Clements said, “There may be people that offer rides to people who can’t drive themselves to doctor appointments or recovery meetings. There’s really everything from the simplest little, low involvement to large initiatives.”

“We don’t have an option not to take a step,” said Rebecca Davis, executive pastor at Calvary Church in Johnson City. “The Bible tells us that we’re to love our neighbor and this community is our neighbor. These are our brothers and sisters.” Pastor Davis said on average around 1,500 people attend Sunday services at Calvary and they are approached about addiction on a daily basis. “We’re approached, phone calls, at church on Sunday, Facebook messenger. I go to Calvary and I’m struggling with this.”

Pastor Davis believes churches are a safe place for people and she wants Calvary to be a resource for people trying to get help with opioid addiction and their families. “This is exciting for us because I feel like it will give us the how to; how can we best be a resource, how can we fill in the gaps for prevention treatment, recovery.”

Roughly a dozen local churches will be part of the formal Holy Friendship Collaborative but they will work with other churches as well. The collaborative hopes to have a facilitator in place by November and plans to have a formal meeting with everyone in the collaborative in January to identify ways they can help.

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