First Congregational Church UCC of Saugus might not be bringing people back to life as Jesus did with Lazarus, but they are indeed helping to physically save lives.
The church has recently begun offering free Narcan training sessions once a month. Narcan is an emergency nasal spray that can bring a person out of a heroin or opioid overdose.
“It’s really a life-saving drug,” said Pastor Rev. Martha Leahy.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Opioid Overdose is one of the leading causes of deaths in Massachusetts. Some examples of opioids include Heroin, Oxycodone, Methadone, Fentanyl, Codeine, and Morphine. In an overdose, opioids can slow breathing to the point of death. Nasal Naloxone (also known as Narcan®) is a drug that can actually block the opioids and restore normal breathing when sprayed into the nose of someone who has overdosed. It is safe, easy to administer, and has no potential for abuse.
The Department of Public Health conducted a pilot project to distribute Nasal Naloxone in order to save lives, and the Saugus church joined the program. The church is the Saugus site for a monthly training session in the use of Narcan. Training, which happens the third Monday of every month, is provided by Healthy Streets of Lynn, an affiliate of Northeast Behavorial Health System. Sessions are held on other days of the week in partner communities. In addition, a private space in our church hall is used to do HIV/AIDS testing. Following the training session, the regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings are held.
“This ministry came about as a response to the high number of heroin deaths in our town,” said Leahy. “We have joined with three other neighboring towns – Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop – in winning a $300,000 grant to come up with ways to reduce the incidence of heroin and opioid addiction. Those participating in the pilot project offer referrals to substance abuse treatment for all participants who are misusing opioids. These programs train opioid users, their families and their friends on how to prevent and recognize an opioid overdose, and what to do if one occurs. The training covers the importance of calling 9-1-1, how to perform rescue breathing, and how to administer nasal naloxone.
Leahy sits on the Saugus Working Group administering this grant, representing the Saugus Faith Community. Leahy believes the voice of the Faith Community has been a powerful one, because they are the ones doing the funerals of young persons who have died. (See separate blog article where Leahy further explains why the church reached out beyond their ‘pumpkin patch’ to address real community needs.)
“Much of this sorrow is hidden and underground, as families try to hide from the stigma of having a child who is a heroin addict,” she said. “We see the numbers of grandparents raising grandchildren because the parents are deceased or in jail. We hear the stories of parents who are grieving for their children’s addictions but don’t know where to turn. Our hope is that strategies we come up with will include better education, better access to early detection of mental health issues and greater access to addiction treatment.”
Cyrus Moulton of The Daily Item reported that Leahy and other members of the Saugus Clergy Association decided to learn about Narcan after three recent overdose deaths in the town. “It’s not a cure-all, but it gives you a second chance, and I think every parent would vote for that,” Moulton quoted Leahy as saying.
On one particular Monday training session, there were nine attendees. Some asked questions indicating they had family members who were users. Others said they came simply to learn.
The church had already offered meeting space to Narcotics Anonymous, a non-profit group that provides a safe space for those struggling with addictions. A special effort had been made to reach out to Saugus teens, whose drug addictions have become a major social, legal and spiritual problem. “The Narcan ministry goes beyond the meeting walls and directly into our community,” said Leahy. “Our church’s aim is to provide an opportunity for healing for all who enter our doors, and even those who can’t make it in.”
Rev. Leahy can be reached the church office at 781-233-3028. Visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/uccsaugus or twitter feed at www.twitter.com/1stchurchsaugus.
NOTE: From the Massachuetts Department of Health Information Sheet
To hear recorded information on how to prevent, recognize, and respond to an opioid overdose call: 800-383-2437. If you have questions about the DPH naloxone distribution pilot contact: Sarah Ruiz at 617-624-5136 or at Sarah.Ruiz@state.ma.us. For the latest information on where to get naloxone or for a treatment referral call: the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline at 800-327-5050.