The COVID Pandemic and Opioid-Related Mortality: The Church Can Help

The COVID Pandemic and Opioid-Related Mortality: The Church Can Help

Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are among 40 states that have reported an increase in overdose deaths during 2020 as compared to 2019. The pandemic is highlighting the issues of social justice and inequities in our health care system by the fact that the poor, incarcerated, people of color, indigenous people, and other people of color are at higher risk of death by overdose and death from the coronavirus pandemic than others.

Increased concern related to mental health and substance use disorder prompted the American Medical Association to release a statement advocating for the reduction of the barriers faced by people with a substance use disorder when seeking treatment and harm reduction services. There is much to be said about what evidence-based treatments and harm reduction methods entail however that will be the topic for a subsequent blog. Today, the focus is on the United Church of Christ Overdose and Drug Use Ministries and what we, as the church, can do in our communities.

"We know people are isolating, and we're worried about people using not just opioids, but all kinds of substances," says Deidre Calvert, Director of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services for the Department of Public Health in Massachusetts in a podcast on WBUR on May 21, 2020. She notes that many people are avoiding treatment and recovery centers due to fears of contracting COVID-19 which increases the risk of accidental overdoses. Calvert also says, "Recovery doesn’t happen alone, it happens in a community."

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) One Voice, One Community guide states, “No single organization or person can address the multitude of services needed to help people affected by mental health or substance use conditions…the best sources are the people who live, serve, and work in the community and the best results are often seen when they undertake such action together.”  

SNEUCC congregations are part of the fabric of our communities. The SNEUCC Vision Statement begins with this scripture from Ephesians 4:15-16: “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into the one who is the head – into Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.”
So how do we live the words of our vision? Many churches host Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, NAMI support groups and other community-based groups to assist those with mental health and substance use disorders. There is more we can do.

The UCC Health and Wholeness Advocacy Office established the Overdose and Drug Use Ministry (ODUM) in response to the opioid crisis two years ago. The need for a united, collaborative response to this crisis is growing even stronger due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ODUM vision emphasizes God’s call to us to work together to for harm reduction, to reduce stigma and to work toward justice and love. By providing education, resources, and strategies for engagement at the local, state and national levels pastors, lay leaders, theologians, service providers, activists, and other collaborators can become effective advocates for all those affected by overdose and drug use.

This is an invitation to all clergy and lay leaders to reach out and connect with UCC ODUM. Mike Schuenemeyer and Erica Poellot are excited to share this ministry with you, to hear what you are doing and to engage collaboratively in this ministry. They write in a letter to UCC Conference Ministers, “Providing overdose prevention, recognition, response education, and access to naloxone to people who use drugs, and their friends, families, and church communities is a harm reduction strategy that saves lives; it is an act of love and justice for our most marginalized neighbors.”

Click on the link to learn more about Overdose and Drug Use Ministry (ODUM) and watch the video: Breath of Life: Faithful Responses to Overdose.

 Further information about the Opioid Crisis will be shared in the coming months. In the meantime here are some helpful articles:
Rhode Island


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Debbie Ringen

Debbie Ringen supports the Conference vision to make God’s love and justice real through wellness ministry at the Conference and local church level. In addition to providing resources, educational workshops, blogs and networking opportunities, she is...

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