RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s clergy are gathering in cities across the state to talk about the opioid crisis. A recent survey found more than 70 percent of clergy in North Carolina say their congregations have been affected by opioids.
Barriers to accessing substance abuse and mental-health resources make church one of the first places people turn to for help with addiction. Elizabeth Brewington, opioid response program coordinator with the North Carolina Council of Churches, is organizing the clergy breakfasts.
She said clergy are often working to meet the needs of their congregation, and may not have the time to get educated on substance-abuse disorders in order to better help people struggling with opioid addiction.
“There are so many ways churches can get involved, I should say. If a church has a van, they can drive people to meetings or drive people to treatment centers. There’s an example of a church knitting group that was able to knit bags for naloxone,” Brewington said. “Many people have lost so much. So, having faith communities be a source of healing would be huge.”
The first clergy breakfast is being held today at The Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill. Clergy breakfasts will be held in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Wilmington, Boone and several other cities this month and in June.
Rev. Kelly Carpenter is senior pastor at Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem. A few years ago, his congregation started a needle-exchange program.
While his church is vocal about educating people on the nature of opioid addiction and welcoming to people who use drugs or are in recovery, Carpenter pointed out that many churches are hesitant.
“Churches are often the primary source of stigmatization when it comes to using drugs, especially heroin,” Carpenter said. “So, it definitely is also within families. But, I’m telling you, we as churches and faith families have to wrestle with that. I don’t know that we’re the most trusted group or community entity out there where people can go.”
According to the survey, more than 65% of clergy in North Carolina say they support harm-reduction methods such as needle exchanges and Law-Enforcement Assisted Diversion, a program that allows police to take people using drugs to treatment centers instead of jail.