Opioids Cycle Of Fraud

File/(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

What role does the faith community have in helping people who struggle with addiction? 

It turns out, it may be a very significant one.

Faith leaders already have connections with their communities and the people they serve. They already provide support, guidance and counseling and can be among the first to identify someone in crisis.

Wednesday, faith leaders, advocates and professionals gathered for a conference focused on a faith-based approach to health issues.

Chief among those issues: the opioid addiction crisis, which took the lives of about 400 people in Delaware in 2018.

Timothy Santa Barbara considers himself fortunate that he was not one of them. He battled addiction for about 20 years, overdosed twice and had his first brush with the prison system at age 15. 

Now, he is a pastoral intern at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church. 

Santa Barbara said it may be helpful to portray treatment in a different light.

"When you tell people there is help, there is a six-month program or a 12-month program, they hear 'prison sentence,'" Santa Barbara said. "That's where the relationship aspect comes in."

By relationship, Santa Barbara is talking about his own with God and Jesus Christ, but also with identifying a key person who can show the way.

The conference was hosted by the Delaware Ecumenical Council for Children and Families and We Work for Health of Delaware, which says it brings together people involved with the pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors.

"We need to turn to the churches, to help solve some of the problems that we are facing in our community," Delaware Ecumenical Council President LaVaida White said.

From the public policy standpoint, Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long expressed optimism that some of the changes she and other members of the Behavioral Health Consortium recommended last year are resulting in progress.

"Even though we had a rough year, with your help and with others getting treatment when they need it, and talking to our children - and preventative services - I'm convinced that we can do it."