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When I was a kid, I remember seeing messaging campaigns about drugs that revolved around the slogan, “just say no,” oversimplifying an incredibly complex issue.  What was left unsaid in those school assemblies and even in federal drug policy at the time was the hard truth about why people are saying yes to drugs in the first place.  The answers are as different as every person who uses drugs, from an elderly woman who is prescribed pain pills after a surgery and becomes addicted, to the man who was injured at work but was unable to afford the medical care and pain pills he needed so looked to more easily available pain management strategies that weren’t legal, to a young woman who is coping with poverty, violence, and systemic injustices as best she knows how.  Every person who lives with an addiction has a unique story, and every person is worthy of compassion, dignity, and access to affordable treatment options they choose for themselves. 

The recent news coverage in both our local and national media has rightly called attention to the shocking statistics of increased deaths due to drug overdose, and we must remember that every data point is not just a number but a name, a beloved human being filled with potential, whose death impacted a family and a community.  There is grieving around the world for the lives lost to overdose, made even more tragic by the fact that we have the science and the treatment options to help people but we have built so many barriers to treatment: stigma, shame, cost, fear of incarceration, fear of family abandonment, fear of rejection from community.  It should grieve all of us to know how many lives could have been saved if communities were working together to celebrate the courage and perseverance of those seeking treatment.

That’s why Rockford Urban Ministries is working to provide faith communities with resources on how we can all be a part of the solution and work together to save lives.  On Thursday, August 26th at 7pm we’re hosting a program called Overdose Prevention: The Faith Community’s Role.  The event will be in-person with masks required at Beth Eden United Methodist Church, 3201 Huffman Blvd in Rockford, as well as live-streamed on the Rockford Urban Ministries Facebook page.  Everyone is invited to join us in this conversation about what it really means to love our neighbors as we hear from a panel of experts in the field sharing best practices and their hopes for the future.

August 31st is also International Overdose Awareness Day, and many community partners in the Rockford area have come together to organize a memorial event remembering the more than 93,000 lives lost to overdose in the U.S. last year.  The event will take place at the Nicholas Conservatory and Garden on August 31st from 4pm-9pm, where attendees will have an opportunity to get trained in administering the life-saving treatment Naloxone.  I’ve personally taken the training and highly recommend it.                         

In the coming days in honor of Overdose Awareness Day, I invite you to find a way to talk about drug addiction in a non-judgmental way.  Consider making a social media post expressing your support for people who seek treatment.  If you’re part of a faith community, bring up addiction and overdose during prayer time or ask your clergyperson to name it.  Together we can break down all the barriers to treatment, and one step in that work is being brave enough to talk about it.