Maine’s faith communities this month are grappling with how they can and should respond to the opioid crisis that continues to claim about one life every day to an accidental overdose.
Religious leaders in Greater Bangor, along with policymakers and treatment provides, will gather Thursday at St. John Catholic Church on York Street for the Second Annual Healing Service. The first was held in April 2018.
The Bangor service will begin with an informational session at 5 p.m. in the fellowship hall of the church. It will include training in the use of naloxone, and doses of the overdose antidote will be offered.
The interfaith service will begin at 6 p.m. People who have lost loved ones will be invited to write names on a white board, place pictures or other memory items on a table, place flowers in a vase and silently remember those they have lost.
Speakers at the service will include Gordon Smith, the state’s Director of Opioid Response, which is a new position in Gov. Janet Mills’ administration. He said his message will emphasize hope and recovery.
“Most importantly, I will be encouraging all Mainers to look at opioid addiction as a chronic disease and to recognize that individuals with substance use disorders deserve our compassion and need to have access to medical services as well as stable housing, counseling and a variety of support services,” Smith said Thursday. ”While it is a positive sign that the number of overdose deaths was down 15 percent in 2018 from the previous year, we are still losing, on average, a person a day to an accidental overdose. We have to do better at addressing the many issues underlying these statistics, including addressing the root causes of addiction.”
Mills has been invited to attend but her schedule has not been finalized, according to her press secretary, Lindsay Crete.
One week after the healing service in Bangor, on May 21, the Maine Council of Churches will hold a workshop in Auburn during which clergy and church leaders will learn about harm reduction, compassionate care, overdose prevention and criminal justice and public policy. Attendees also will hear about churches in Maine already involved in responding to the opioid crisis at the local level.
Training in administering naloxone and free doses that can be kept emergency kits at houses of worship will be available.
For information on the healing service, call 907-1700 or visit the service’s Facebook page. For more information on the Maine Council of Churches workshop, call 772-1918 or visit the council’s website.