Faith-based conference to address addiction

A public conference Thursday is aimed at rallying the faith-based community toward addressing the opiate epidemic.

The conference, organized by the local opiate task force of community leaders and supported by the Ohio Attorney General's Office, will be held at Wooster Church of the Nazarene, 3100 Oak Hill Road, at 9 a.m., and is free to attend.

Faith Harvest Fellowship pastor Jerry O'Brien said the conference is geared toward the faith community and opportunities for churches to help battle the opiate epidemic.

O'Brien was tapped by Wayne County Prosecutor Dan Lutz and Municipal Court Judge Timothy VanSickle as the faith community's representative to a county-wide Opiates Task Force composed of countless organizations.

The group has been meeting monthly for about a year.

"First, my goal and hope is to make the pastors aware how prevalent and serious is the problem," said Lutz. "Secondly, I want to highlight this crisis as an opportunity for the church to be the church. Our churches have tremendous resources, whether they be spiritual, material or a strong volunteer base. In my opinion, this epidemic stems from a spiritual emptiness that the faith community is uniquely qualified to address. A secular approach alone simply will not solve this problem."

VanSickle said the task force was formed at the request of Attorney General Mike DeWine, who asked all 88 counties to bring together leaders to fight the opiate epidemic.

"Our first and primary goal of our local task force is to reach a 'zero-fatality' level in Wayne County," the judge said. "We are losing so many lives to opiate abuse, primarily heroin, in this county that it made sense to make this our top priority."

The conference will feature speakers who deal with opiates on a daily basis -- such as DeWine, Wayne County Sheriff Travis Hutchinson and Medway Drug Enforcement Agency Director Don Hall, to name a few.

The second half of the conference is geared toward how the faith community can help.

"This conference is going to be giving them the tools and information they would need," O'Brien said, as churches can provide support for families of addicts, support for recovering addicts and education for youth to prevent future addicts.

O'Brien said he believes local churches can provide support for recovering addicts and allow addicts to make new connections. He said one of the biggest issues addicts face is often times families are enablers. By offering support, churches can offer new, safe environments to begin the recovery process.

"That's the church's biggest strength," he said.

O'Brien, a physical and emotional victim of an alcoholic father, said addressing and dealing with addiction is a passion of his.

"I carry scars on my body and my heart," he said, as he believes his church has a responsibility to take care of the community outside of the church walls, as well as inside of them.

"Our responsibility is to minister to the spiritual and the physical man," O'Brien said. "To do that we need to find one need. That is how revival begins. That's how Jesus did it. This is one of the community's biggest needs."


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