The Role of the Faith Community: Preventing Drug Overdose and Death

The Role of the Faith Community: Preventing Drug Overdose and Death

Faith leaders, authorized ministers, youth leaders, church school leaders, and all who live and model the love and compassion of Jesus, can positively influence children, teens and adults to prevent overdose deaths. Erica Poellot, UCC Minister for Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention Ministries states harm reduction works toward a positive change that “is one that reduces risk to oneself and one’s community, that makes space for a person to pursue spiritual, emotional, and physical health and wholeness, that emerges from and increases their agency.”
Why should faith leaders promote harm reduction in communities of faith? According to the CDC, 67 percent of the 107,375 drug overdose or drug poisoning deaths in the United States involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Some of these deaths were due to fentanyl mixed with other illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Many users did not know they were taking fentanyl. Opioid misuse and overdose are a public health crisis.
These deaths are preventable. The United Sates Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram reports Fentanyl is in every community from large metropolitan areas to rural communities. Milgram stresses the importance of awareness in preventing fentanyl-related overdose deaths and poisonings. Maybe in August you heard the DEA warned of brightly-colored fentanyl used to target young Americans. Fentanyl was found in rainbow colors as pills marked to look like prescription drugs, powders, and bricks resembling sidewalk chalk. It is so potent that an amount equivalent to 10 to 15 grains of salt can be lethal. Recently, two Maryland drug traffickers were arrested in Connecticut with 15,000 fentanyl pills disguised in candy bags. As is always recommended on Halloween, the DEA urges parents to check candy wrappers and to take anything suspicious to their local police department.
Parents and youth leaders are trusted adults who can prevent opioid overdose and poisoning through modeling healthy behaviors, positive relationships, and awareness of early warning signs.

Dr. Scott E. Hadland, a pediatrician and addiction specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, expressed his concern in Time Magazine.  Hadland encourages parents and adults to watch for the red flags such as changes in behavior, difficulty in school and changes in relationships. Also, teen use of alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine often starts before taking more dangerous drugs to cope with mental health issues.

Positive steps to take to prevent substance use disorder overdose and death:

  • store medications out of reach of children and vulnerable adults
  • dispose of unused, unwanted, and expired medications in medication drop boxes found in police stations
  • return unused or expired medication to a medication-take-back day in your community
  • if you must dispose of unused, unwanted, and expired medications at home:
    • make sure to remove your personal information from the container
    • mix the unused medication with hot water and used coffee grounds or kitty litter, put it in a solid container or impermeable plastic bag, and seal it; then it can be thrown into the trash
    •  there is a list of very potent, dangerous medications that are recommended to be flushed when unused or expired. This list is compiled by the FDA and includes medication such as fentanyl and fentanyl patches, morphine, and oxycodone, among others.
  • host Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous support groups in your facility 
  • get trained in Naloxone (Narcan) administration and keep a dose or two on hand
    • Narcan comes in a nasal spray and is easy to administer to restore breathing when a person has fewer than 6 breaths per minute, blue or gray lips or fingertips, gurgling, and opioid use is suspected
    • find out how and where to get Narcan from your state-specific website below or through Next Distro: Stay Alive, Stay Safe.

To learn more about how you can help save a life, download these free guides:

How to Start a Conversation With Your Child. Published by the DEA

For Adults Who Work With Children: Preparing Young Children For a Healthy Drug-Free Future.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services provides resources and suggestions to build positive healthy relationships, communication, and coping skills to prevent substance misuse.

PreventOverdoseRI includes resources for parents, teachers, and faith leaders. 

Opioid Epidemic Practical Toolkit: Helping Faith and Community Leaders Bring Hope and Healing to Our Communities offers practical steps to increase awareness, reduce stigma and get help to prevent substance misuse and overdose from The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
UCC Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention Ministries provides education and resources to clergy and congregations to equip and engage in ministries focused on reducing stigma, trauma, and drug use.
Breath of Life: Faithful Responses to Overdose, a video presented by the UCC Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention Ministries. The use of Naloxone, Narcan to reverse overdose.

National Harm Reduction Coalition, Training Guide Spirit of Harm Reduction: A Toolkit for Communities of Faith Facing Overdose

State specific drug overdose prevention program resources:

Connecticut Opioids and Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Program
ConnecticutSafe Medication Disposal
Massachusetts Opioid Overdose Prevention Information
Massachusetts Medication Disposal
Rhode Island Opioid Overdose Prevention Program
Rhode Island Medication Disposal


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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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