Addressing Long Island’s Opioid Crisis

What’s cheaper than a pizza and easier to get? If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you know that our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis. Unfortunately, Nassau and Suffolk counties are at the epicenter.  

The statistics are frightening, and it’s likely that most of us have been affected in some way. Maybe you or someone in your family has struggled with addiction. Perhaps the child of a friend has dealt with this or you are simply worried that your kids or grandkids will start using this destructive drug. If you share this concern, you’ll be glad to know that help is on the way.

Through my involvement with the Plainview-Old Bethpage Interfaith Clergy Council, I was encouraged to attend an event called “The Long Island Covenant to End the Opioid Crisis” at St. Anthony’s H.S. in South Huntington. Organizers hoped that 493 people would attend (that was the number of opioid deaths on LI in 2016), but close to 1,300 people showed up!

Pastor Eric Olsen from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church led the discussion and we heard heart-wrenching stories from parents who lost children to this addiction and a teenager whose father sold her piano to support his drug habit. Recovering addicts shared their frustration with how little support existed once they were discharged from the hospital or rehab.

The whole point of this covenant is to bring together houses of worship, schools, government, law enforcement and the health-care system to fight this demon. With the help of community organizers from LICAN (Long Island Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods), groups will be urged to hold the pharmaceutical industry, government and law enforcement accountable for their roles in this scourge and schools, individuals and faith organizations to take action in terms of prevention and support.

So where does St. Margaret’s fit into this puzzle? After attending several follow-up meetings, I learned that it all starts with LISTENING! When addicts are asked if they went to their church, temple or mosque for help, the answer was always, “No. That’s the LAST thing I would ever do. I don't need to be judged.” This has to change!

Throughout the summer, faith groups will be holding “Listening Campaigns” where laypeople gather in small groups and simply share their stories, struggles and fears. No solutions will brainstormed here, it’s all about listening … with no judgment. This inform-ation will then be shared with LICAN so that a more detailed action plan can be created.

Another area where we can help is in prevention. According to Dr. Lloyd Sederer, who spoke at St. John’s Church, Cold Spring Harbor, faith can be both an immunization and an antidote. Through service to others, we can give meaning and purpose to our lives in a positive and healthy way.

There is so much more to say about this serious subject and this will be an ongoing conversation that I hope we’ll all be a part of.

I'm very encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm I’ve seen and felt so far and for the opportunity to partner with the other houses of worship in POB. On Oct. 26 there will be a huge follow-up meeting, and I encourage as many parishioners to attend as possible. In the words of Pastor Olsen, “Alone we can do much. Together we can do much more.”