New England Battles the Opioid Crisis With a Mix of Science and Faith

A police officer speaks to people on New Haven Green on Aug. 15, 2018, in New Haven, Conn. Emergency personnel responded to dozens of overdoses at the park on Aug. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

Doreen Abubakar arrived at Manjares Restaurant and Fine Pastries in New Haven, Conn., catching her breath and waiting for a miracle.

Her 29-year-old daughter was in intensive care at a nearby hospital, unconscious and bleeding internally, symptoms that doctors said were connected to years of being addicted to opiates, heroin, cocaine and crack.

Her daughter might need surgery, Abubakar said as she sat down, adding that she might have to leave at a moment’s notice.

“As those children come to you and you go through life, as parents, we realize we can’t fix everything,” Abubakar said. “As a parent, we think all we gotta do is the same thing our parents did, and it will be OK.”

But with her eldest daughter, Abubakar said, more intervention was needed.

This has been her life over the past decade and a half.

Abubakar said her daughter’s journey into drug abuse began in eighth grade, when she started smoking marijuana on the streets with her friends. From there, she began using harder drugs, her mom said.

“She tried to go to a Florida rehab. They even paid for it,” Abubakar said. “But she was still holding on to this attitude of ‘I don’t really need help, I can stop this. This is what I choose to do.’”

But her daughter’s fragile frame started to buckle under the weight of the substances she was taking, and she regularly fainted and fell. Abubakar took her to the hospital in January after one fainting incident, and the doctors kept her daughter for 15 days, treating her for anemia and internal bleeding.

Abubakar was thankful for her daughter’s hospitalization because it kept her away from the streets and the drugs. But after she was released, her daughter fainted again on Feb. 4, went into cardiac arrest on the floor of Abubakar’s bathroom and had to be rushed back to the hospital.

Addiction stories like Abubaker’s are rapidly becoming more common in Connecticut, a state the National Institute on Drug Abuse counts among the top 10 states with the highest rates of opioid-related deaths. According to the agency, the state has seen a nearly fourfold increase in deaths from opioid overdoses since 2016.

In a 2017 anti-opioid campaign, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Connecticut said there were 446 deaths from fentanyl overdoses in 2015, up 3,000 percent from 2012. On Aug. 15, 2018, New Haven ambulances responded to more than 70 overdoses in one city park, the New Haven Green near Yale University, stemming from the abuse of a tainted batch of synthetic marijuana called K2 and other drugs.

The opioid epidemic has hit New England very hard. Photo courtesy of USDA/Creative Commons

The crisis has left churches scrambling to respond.

Last year, a man overdosed on the front porch of The Center Church, a First Church of Christ in Hartford. The police were called, but church officials never learned what subsequently happened to him, said the Rev. Shelly Stackhouse, the church’s transitional pastor.

The incident made Stackhouse aware that the church, which already hosts weekly free community meals and runs an outreach center, needed guidance on how to respond to the opioid epidemic, especially how to minister to those with addictions.

Stackhouse pursued training through Faith in Harm Reduction, a program offered by the Harm Reduction Coalition, a New York organization that educates faith leaders on how to deal with drug abuse in their communities. She is also pursuing training in how to administer Narcan, a drug that’s used to treat overdose victims.

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Source: Religion News Service