Serving Those with Addiction

Her husband was waiting for her when she came home.

He went upstairs to run a warm bath for her and help her get cleaned up. When he came back downstairs, he found his wife talking to her children in the kitchen, convincing them to give her the money in their piggy banks.

She told them that “Mommy needed the money to feel better.”

She was a heroin addict, suffering from dope sickness and desperate for another dose. And she was one of hundreds that live practically next door, and that are calling for help.

A true story courtesy of Pastor Greg Delaney, Freedom Church, Xenia, Ohio

It’s Getting Worse

[Graphics by Amy Sririntrachai and Naomi Harward]

Ohio’s Clark County is the seventh highest county in drug-related deaths statewide, recording 55 heroin overdose deaths last year. Its county seat, Springfield, is only a 10-minute drive from a quaint little college town known as Cedarville.

Amelia Walker, a senior student at Cedarville University, is from Springfield. Through her church’s involvement, she learned a lot about the growing heroin epidemic and its prevalence even in her area.

Though Cedarville itself suffers no adverse effects from the epidemic, 34 overdose deaths were recorded last year in Greene County as a whole. Neighboring Clark County is quoted as a “hot seat” for drug activity.

“[Springfield’s] right around the corner from Cedarville,” she said. “This isn’t just a big-city problem.”

One phrase often used to describe Ohio’s heroin epidemic is that “it’s out of hand.” The common misconception that heroin is only prevalent in certain communities is quickly being overturned as deaths related to accidental overdose continue to hurtle skyward in areas just outside the limits of Cedarville.

“It is everywhere,” said Grant Edwards, senior pastor of Fellowship Christian church in Springfield. He said his church has seen an abundance of addicts from all walks of life in his community and walking through his doors. “Everybody’s dabbling,” he said.

The epidemic started in Ohio in 1996, said Pastor Greg Delaney of Freedom Church in Xenia, which is dedicated to ministering to those struggling with substance abuse and addiction. It started when doctors started prescribing opioids for pain management. At the same time, black-tar heroin was being brought into Columbus through immigration from Mexico.

It was the combination for “the perfect storm,” Delaney said.

Once viewed as a “street drug” that even the most “hard-core” drug users were skeptical about using, heroin spread like a deadly weed as more patients began to develop a reliance on the addictive opioids many doctors were over-prescribing. When their prescriptions ran out, or their doctors took them off the pills, they found themselves seeking cheaper alternatives.

Not only that, but heroin’s first-time high is “highly addictive,” said Linda Mortenson of Safe Harbor House, a women’s halfway home for recovering substance-abuse addicts. “Once they do it, they love it, and there’s no going back.”

The Killer ‘Blue Drop’

[Graphics by Amy Sririntrachai and Naomi Haward]

The introduction of the synthetic opioid fentanyl is taking the already out-of-hand epidemic to new heights. Reportedly 20-30 times more potent than heroin, fentanyl is cheaper for drug dealers to obtain than pure heroin, and when laced with heroin gives users an even better high.

It’s called “Blue Drop” heroin, and it’s killing unsuspecting addicts across the state. Dealers lie to their clients about how much fentanyl is “cut” into the dose, if they tell them it’s in there at all, said Lynn Oliver, manager of Substance Use Disorder Division at TCN Behavioral Health Services in Xenia.

“We’ve arrested people getting ready to shoot up with pure fentanyl,” said Clark County Prosecutor Daniel Carey. “They would have died.”

The Ohio Health Department reported a total of 1,424 deaths last year caused by accidental heroin overdose, a little less than 50 percent of all Ohio resident deaths in 2015. Over 1,150 of those deaths were also fentanyl-related. “Blue Drop” has been a major player in the 321 percent increase of deaths by heroin overdose in the past five years alone.

“It’s causing overdoses in such a way that I’ve never seen before,” Oliver said. “It’s a whole different universe.”

And “it’s only getting worse,” says Delaney, Mortenson, Carey, Oliver and many others.

The Student’s Part

Every year, students at CU are encouraged through Global Outreach to get involved in a local ministry. As this epidemic continues to grow wildly out of control, more and more leaders in fightingthe epidemic are realizing the potential of the church to play a powerful role in making an impact. They are encouraging more members of the church, and more young people, to step out and be the light that comes alongside these struggling addicts and helps guide them toward recovery.

Walker encourages students to get involved in programs like Safe Harbor House and McKinley Hall in Springfield, men’s and women’s homeless shelters, and Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs offer support and counseling for those struggling with different kinds of substance use, Safe Harbor being well-known for its faith-based focus on rehabilitation. They welcome volunteers, and many like Safe Harbor House and McKinley Hall are especially open to the help of students from nearby schools.

Beth Delaney, wife of Pastor Delaney and assistant professor of Nursing at CU, adds the importance of being actively involved in a local church and encourages churches to reach out.
“Reach out to programs like Celebrate Recovery, poverty simulators, established shelters. Invite a speaker in to educate both you and your church,” she said.

Connection Before Correction

Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine, who lives in Cedarville, and Gov. John Kasich began to discuss ways to combine law enforcement with faith-based involvement when the heroin epidemic

began to gain traction, sometime between 2013 and 2014. They were beginning to realize that “without faith, we can’t fix this.” DeWine approached Delaney about reaching out to users through the church.

Delaney has been working with DeWine for the past year and a half to better understand the problem; and therefore, better equip churches with the education and tools they need to most effectively minister to those addicts in their communities and those that walk through their doors.

“Getting the church engaged” is key, both Delaney and his wife said. They encourage churches to open themselves up as a “safe house” for users, a place where users can walk in and feel welcomed into a real community.

“We need to meet these folks where they are,” Delaney said. “We need to compare the relationship with the drug to the relationship with Christ, by being understanding, by coming alongside them and being relational.”

In other words, he said, the church needs to focus on being a model for addicts to follow. “Recovery is caught more than it’s taught.”

Heroin is a disease of isolation, he said. It doesn’t thrive in a community setting, which makes bringing the addict into the church and making them feel like a part of a community is at the core of recovery. Opening the church equals tearing down the walls between the church and the addict.

Delaney cited the New Testament story of the woman caught in adultery that was about to be stoned and Jesus’ intercession (John 8), as an example for how the church should be engaging those struggling with heroin – or any other – addiction. By stepping in and pointing out the others’ hypocrisy, “Jesus gave [the woman] the context to move forward,” he said.

“Ninety-two out of 100 addicts will fail,” he said. “And the church needs to understand that and not be quick to judge or give up.”

Delaney said it has taken a while for the church to realize its potential as a part of fighting this epidemic. As he sees more stepping up to the plate, he said he sees things “flattening” out in terms of how bad the epidemic is getting.

“I view [the addicts] as someone desperate for a safe, authentic, transparent community,” he said. And that is what the church has a potential of offering them.

The body of Christ becomes the hope that users are searching for, once it steps out and reaches out.

More Than Equipped

What many involved in treating or ministering to addicts said they have discovered is that a key to fighting this epidemic is establishing relationships. It is even more important to establish a relationship between the user and the church.

Church leaders are not the only ones recognizing the importance of having that relational aspect. Prosecutor Carey is an advocate for establishing a specialized drug court in Clark County due to the more personal and relational methods used in working with addicts to reintegrate them into society as functioning citizens.

“We have found that [the offenders] really look forward to telling the judge where they are struggling, where they messed up, where they’ve improved, that kind of thing,” he said.

Mortenson at Safe Harbor agrees that faith-based programs are what will have a lasting effect on the epidemic in the long term.

Oliver at TCN said that their center focuses on interactive treatment because they recognize the need for recovering addicts to have someone to walk with them who understands what they are going through. Someone who has sympathy for them, but can also show them why they need to push through to recovery.

Because of the importance of that relational aspect, Pastor Delaney said that this generation is “more than equipped” to meet that need.

Naomi Harward is a senior journalism major and the photography editor for Cedars. She is an avid photographer, and she loves horses and writing flash fiction.

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