By Chris Bavender
A new initiative by Overdose Lifeline and Parents of Addicted Loved Ones is helping not only the loved ones of those who are battling addiction or have died of overdose, but it also is providing area churches with tools to help stem the growing opioid crisis.
One participating congregation is Carmel Christian Church.
“We want to be a place of healing and bringing hope. The opioid epidemic crosses all economic, racial, cultural backgrounds,” said Jerry Zehr, pastor at Carmel Christian Church. “We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. When we stay silent, we perpetuate shame and guilt that people carry when dealing with addictions.”
The church has hosted weekly PAL meetings at 6:30 every Monday evening since January. Rev. Andrea Boutselis, a member of Carmel Christian Church, was instrumental in bringing the program to the church and serves as the faciliator. She’s also witnessed the addiction battle firsthand. When she started arranging the meetings in January, her son had been clean for six months.
“What I experienced watching my son decline because of this horrible disease was emotionally excruciating,” she said. “I was under the false impression this could never happen to my son. It practically dismantled my family. How wrong I was.”
Boutselis said many believe addiction is something that could never happen to their family.
“Unfortunately, people aren’t talking about it because of the stigma. We judge ourselves harshly enough as parents. It’s unbearably painful, and we don’t need the community judging us, making it worse,” she said. “I wanted to be there for other people as they were for me. If not for those who cared about me and understood what was happening to my family and what it was doing to me, I don’t know how I would’ve survived.”
Boutselis and Justin Phillips, who founded Overdose Lifeline after the death of her 20-year-old son in Oct. 2013 from a heroin overdose, have been friends for some time, and Boutselis’ husband is on the organization’s board. The two wanted to find ways to get the faith community engaged in fighting the opioid epidemic. To date, they’ve had two symposiums for churches. At one, they provided Narcan training and gave the churches free Narcan kits.
“We want as many as possible prepared with the knowledge in the event someone in their congregation needs it. It’s a natural place for people to go to for help,” she said. “Every church we’ve talked to wants to do something. It might not be PAL, but they’re at least willing to do an educational forum for church members.”
The goal is to equip churches with not only resources such as PAL or Narcan kits, but also the understanding that the disease of addiction is not a moral failing or willpower issue.
“We want to give them as much information as possible so they can respond appropriately, whether it’s starting a 12-step meeting or PAL or sponsoring child care for parents who need to attend a meeting,” Phillips said. “There are a lot of different options the faith community is taking on in other states, and we hope we can provide that to the faith community in central Indiana.”