He’s optimistic that programs like the Opioid and Stimulant Outreach will be effective in Oklahoma.
“I think the faith communities are beginning to understand that it takes all of us,” he said. “They are beginning to understand that it takes a collective effort.”
Patterson, the Oklahoma City treatment provider, said that the impact of the pandemic makes these efforts even more critical. People became more isolated during the COVID-19 crisis, and their access to networks of support was limited or they became disconnected altogether.
“There’s been a perfect storm, in my mind,” Patterson said. “We’re probably busier now than we’ve been in the last 10 years.”
Creating robust partnerships
Brett McCarty, a theological ethicist, remembers waiting to hear the health status of a person who had overdosed.
McCarty is associate director of Duke Divinity School’s Theology, Medicine and Culture Initiative, and he holds a joint appointment in the Duke School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health Sciences.
He said his work lends itself to questions about the intersection of faith and medicine as it relates to substance-use disorder. However, there is a personal connection that has fueled his research projects on the topic.
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He is currently focused on the opioid crisis and the response from religious communities, including through his leadership of the Churches Promoting Recovery project. Apart from the intellectual aspect, his interest in the issue was kindled when an extended family member overdosed.
The situation was complex.
“It was just — a lot of what you read about [as] the historical causes of the opioid crisis were present in this person’s life,” he said. “When I was sitting in the waiting room, I like to fix things, and I had no clue how to begin to really imagine a path forward that could really help.”
McCarty soon launched a research project based on his observation that Christian communities in particular seem to struggle with how to respond to people with substance-use disorder.
In his research, he found that when faith communities “attend well” to individuals with substance-use disorder, the religious groups can rediscover their sense of purpose and calling “as they meet Jesus and follow Jesus in the margins.”
“It’s in those spaces that churches and religious folks’ lives can be claimed in ways that reorder themselves toward a deeper sense of purpose, one that society at large doesn’t give us, but is deeply important and faithful,” McCarty said.
North Carolina communities became a focus of his research, which included listening sessions with clergy and a needs assessment. McCarty and other researchers are writing up their findings on the needs of clergy who are responding to the opioid crisis. Information gleaned from their research indicates that the work of ecumenical agencies like those in North Carolina and Oklahoma is both needed and welcome.
That’s good news for government agencies seeking to partner with such groups.
“I would say clergy and faith leaders are eager to partner and to respond well,” he said. “They recognize their limits, but they want to be respected as partners.”