This next installment in our series about community perspectives centers around local pastors who discussed how they view the substance abuse problem in White County. The pastors were very appreciative of the small-town atmosphere of White County, with a strong sense of community where friendly people take care of each other.
They see substance abuse as a somber, weighty issue creating health issues and family crises. Each of them knew stories of parishioners, family members, and neighbors who had been horribly impacted by substance use and its devastation.
They are frustrated by their attempts to help people involved in substance use. They see the cycle of drug use, recovery, and relapse. Many felt unequipped to deal with people involved with substance use. Most had never had specific substance use training and struggled to know how to help. Their desire was for the church to be perceived as a place people could come for help with drug issues.
They expressed concern for youth who are experimenting with substances recreationally. “The kids know it is wrong, but don’t realize the danger. They don’t see that they are walking a dangerous line and the long-term consequences they are setting themselves up for.”
“Nobody doing drugs thinks they will get hooked. They believe it will never happen to me because they are invincible and immortal. Teens believe they have their whole life in front of them, that they will never get hooked, but end up losing years of their lives.”
The pastors recognized that isolation from community was a contributor to substance use. People tend to be busy, focused on their own lives, and don’t spend time with their neighbors. The pastors believe it is unhealthy to live in such a privatized world.
One pastor expressed frustration that “we are already at a loss, because the drug community is already ahead and winning and we are always playing catch-up.” Some expressed frustration in the community’s casual attitude about drugs and alcohol. Several expressed disappointment in community festivals which included a beer garden, perpetuating the attitude that you can’t have fun without drugs and alcohol. “How can you tell kids, ‘don’t do drugs and alcohol’ when many social activities in the community center around alcohol?” They worried that people in recovery, hoping to avoid temptation, might feel excluded from community events.
They were also concerned about senior citizens. Senior adults can unintentionally become addicted to prescription drugs, taking them for legitimate medical needs and becoming vulnerable to overdose. They wondered if the seniors were even aware of the dangers.
Their hope for White County was to pool resources and work together collaborating with other agencies. They are grateful that this is beginning to happen and are developing partnerships with police, sheriff and fire departments. “As a community, we may have our differences, but we always bond together in times in need. When there is crisis, the differences fade into the background and we pull together to take care of each other.”
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.