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Recovery experts urge churches toward awareness, training amid fentanyl epidemic

Isaiah House is an evangelical drug addiction treatment facility in Harrodsburg, Ky.

NASHVILLE (BP) – A Google search for “fentanyl overdose” reveals recent stories of the deaths of three middle-aged Texans, a teen in California and a toddler in South Carolina.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. Overdoses have become commonplace around the country.

“Fentanyl can be put into anything,” said Troy Young, church outreach coordinator for Isaiah House, an evangelical drug addiction treatment facility in Harrodsburg, Ky.

“It can be pressed into pills or put into cocaine. First-time drug users could be introduced to fentanyl and not even know it. That is why we’re seeing so many overdoses.”

He told Baptist Press fentanyl use has spiked in the last five years because of the various forms it can take.

“We serviced more than 3,400 people in our facilities last year, and we’d love to actually see the number of people that we’re serving go down, but with the rise of fentanyl in our communities it continues to go up,” Young said.

Research supports his observations, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says fentanyl is a major contributing factor in overdoses across the nation. Data indicates more than 80,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2021, an increase from just over 70,000 in 2020.

The drug is so potent even first-time exposure through touch can be lethal.

The widespread availability of fentanyl has caused danger even for minors, who can make unsupervised connections with other people on social media.

Media reports warn parents of fentanyl-laced folded dollar bills left on the ground, which have caused accidental overdoses for unsuspecting people who pick them up.

Yahoo! recently reported a group of parents is suing the social media platform Snapchat saying that children and young adults purchased fentanyl-laced drugs from dealers using on the app.

Young said churches have started to take notice of the epidemic, and are reaching out to Isaiah House for help.

“We have churches that want to help, but just don’t know how,” Young said.

Ultimately, Isaiah house believes the local church is the ideal place to experience spiritual change.

“What we want to do is equip the churches to be able to help because it’s in every church and every county,” Young said.

“We believe recovery starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ, and our clients who want to find a church, we will help plug them into a somewhere they will call home. This way, the spiritual habits that are created during treatment can be carried on after treatment. We try to find ‘recovery friendly’ churches where we know they will be loved and cared for.

“The time they will be outside of Isaiah House is a lot longer than the time they will have in it. That’s why the local church is so important as a place that they will be discipled and mentored. We view the church as a very vital partner in this journey of recovery.”

Young said the ministry saw more than 1,000 salvations across its facilities last year, and has already seen 25 in January of this year.

Isaiah House is not the only ministry showing recovery from drug addiction is possible.

Shane Fore helped plant the Main Street campus of Maple Grove Baptist Church, where he also helped start a Celebrate Recovery ministry.

Shane Fore serves as the executive director for Stepping Stone Sanctuary, a homeless shelter in Trumann, Ark., and helps lead the Celebrate Recovery ministry at the Main Street campus of Maple Grove Baptist Church.

Fore helped plant the church campus as well as begin the Celebrate Recovery ministry there.

It’s deeply personal for him. He and his wife were addicted to methamphetamine before turning to Christ almost 10 years ago.

“As bad as our lives were, we made a commitment to Jesus that we would spend the rest of our lives trying to undo some of the damage that we had done and try to help people out of the lives we used to lead,” Fore said.

In the few years of its existence, the Celebrate Recovery program at Maple Grove has assisted in starting several CR ministries at other churches. 

“We just try to share the hope of Christ with people,” Fore said. “When I’m able to preach the Gospel in the same jail I was an inmate at before, it helps them hear what I’m saying in a different way. My passion for developing leaders in recovery ministry gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Fore agrees fentanyl has become a popular and dangerous drug, but says he sees recreational addictions happening to older adults.

“The number one reason for the increase in fentanyl is that it’s cheap, available and easy to hide for dealers,” Fore said.

“Some youth do experiment with fentanyl, but that’s not normally where people who do drugs start. It’s not a gateway drug,” he said.

According to Fore, the solution for churches to address both accidental overdoses and addictions must go beyond awareness and move toward education and training.

He recommends churches take their church leadership through Narcon or Naloxene training.

Narcon is a nasal spray that reverses the immediate effects of fentanyl. Fore says being trained to administer Narcon will serve multiple purposes.

“It’s a way for churches to be proactive and be on offense about the issue,” he said. “Education is the way we combat this, and your training is also serving to reinforce the idea that this is a very dangerous substance.

“It creates awareness, and it is a wonderful vehicle to not only stress the danger of it, but also the effect that it has in the community. It really is the magic bullet that hits everything.”

Fore wants his life to prove there is hope for addicts.

“My testimony serves as a stern warning for people,” Fore said. “I love sharing my story, and I don’t ever get tired of it because Jesus is the hero of it, and I don’t get any glory from it.”