Bangor Mayor Ben Sprague predicts that Wednesday night’s interfaith opioid healing service will be remembered “as a seminal event in this region’s response to this crisis.”
Organizers of the service that drew an estimated 500 people to St. John Catholic Church on York Street hope he is right, and that the area’s faith communities work together with other institutions to help stem the rising tide of opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
Leaders in law enforcement, health care, substance abuse recovery and government joined religious leaders from the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish communities to seek healing and hope. The service was planned for those directly impacted by opioid addiction, including families who have lost loved ones.
Sprague’s observation sounded like a call for action.
He called on “our institutions and ourselves to leave the perceived comfort and tranquility of our own four walls and to come together in one voice to say, ‘No more.’ This is one of the great challenges of our times and we must stand together for the good of this community.”
Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton suggested a three-pronged approach to the crisis that has personally impacted members of his department.
“Whether you believe this is a disease or a self-inflicted behavior, the results are the same — these drugs are destroying lives,” he said. “These are not just ‘those people.’ They are our families, our friends, our co-workers, our faith community members. This must be addressed through enforcement, recovery, and prevention.”
Morton said faith communities are best equipped to focus on prevention.
David and Shelly Yankowsky, both Maine State Police employees, spoke of their son Adam’s death of an overdose last year at the age of 25. Less than a week before he died, Adam was revived with Narcan. Shelly Yankowsky spoke Wednesday of her last conversation with him.
“He said, ‘Mom, I know this week has been rough and I’m sorry,’” she said. “‘I will be better. I love you.’ I told him I loved him too and we hugged for the last time ever. The next morning, I found my son, Adam, dead in his bedroom.”
The chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital, Dr. Tony Ng, urged attendees to join forces to address the crisis rather just reacting emotionally.
“It’s very easy to be sad,” he said. “It’s also very easy to be angry. I’m angry at the system, I’m angry at this, I’m angry at that, but it’s important, at the end of the day, to remember that it is the disease you should be angry at. We need to combine our efforts and not go solo or we won’t win against this disease.”
Houses of worship in the Bangor area have been asked to devote weekend services to the topic of addiction and to make available materials tucked inside the order of service for Wednesday’s event. They included the names and numbers of area addiction providers, statistics on the rising number of overdose deaths and babies born affected by drugs over the past 20 years, and suggestions on how faith communities can help people impacted by substance abuse.
“Our opiate addiction crisis is huge,” said the Rev. Frank Murray, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which includes St. John’s. “The task is so large, no individual, no community can handle it on their own. No profession has all the answers. No faith tradition is the solution. But, tonight, we begin together as a larger community, asking God to help heal us and renew our hope.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call 211 or visit www.211maine.org.