Churches take leap of faith for recovering addicts

By Cecilia Fox -

MIAMI COUNTY — As the opioid epidemic hit and communities worked to respond to the crisis, the county’s churches and faith-based groups stepped in to help fill the gaps.

In Miami County, churches and other faith-based agencies offer counseling for those struggling with addiction, support groups for families and housing for those seeking recovery assistance.

In some ways, those groups have been able to provide things other agencies could not, said Thom Grimm, executive director of the Miami County Recovery Council — most critically, a community that can offer support during recovery.

“One of the key parts of successful recovery from addiction is what the person’s relationships become post-crisis,” Grimm said. “Once the person has successfully gotten through withdrawal and gotten stabilized and gotten some treatment… oftentimes, another key part is where are you living and who’s around you? I think a lot of our folks are really finding a welcoming atmosphere in the faith-based organizations.”

Grimm said that he has been very pleased by how the community has responded to the opioid crisis, adding, “An important element of that is the faith-based community.”

“For us, it’s probably been an untapped resource in terms of support until these last couple of years. I think everybody has been trying to do the best they can, just trying to respond to the crisis,” he said. “This whole epidemic has touched a lot of parts of the community and people just didn’t know what to do. People wanted to help… Once it got sort of organized and mobilized, people were glad to help out.”

The county’s churches came together in a big way during the first Hope Over Heroin event held in Miami County in 2016, lawyer and member of the Miami County Drug-Free Coalition Steve Justice recalled. The second Hope Over Heroin event was held in Piqua last year.

More than 40 churches teamed up for the event, which featured testimonies from those who have battled addiction and introduced the community to the range of social services available in Miami County.

“There was preaching, there was a lot of loud music — it tended to attract people. And it went well,” Justice said.

Rebecca Sousek, executive director of Piqua Compassion Network, described the Hope Over Heroin event as a catalyst for partnership between the network and other agencies. “That’s when we started talking with (Piqua Police) Chief (Bruce) Jamison,” she said.

The networks works with HEART, which was formed to help break down barriers to treatment and is made up of local law enforcement, recovery specialists and others who meet with those seeking addiction treatment.

Piqua Compassion Network, a faith-based, mostly volunteer organization, works with Piqua area churches to provide addiction resources. Those resources include the Celebrate Recovery program, which is open to those dealing with addiction and their loved ones.

“Every Thursday night, we have a recovery-based meeting, very similar to the 12-step program, only it is more faith-based. And it’s open to everybody; you don’t have to have a faith to come,” she said. “We are getting anywhere from 25-30 people every Thursday night.”

The network also helps with basic needs assistance, education and employment to “help people get back onto a path of stability in their lives,” Sousek added.

“Usually, a person recovering has got so many other issues and if we can help with a utility bill — you know, we have a lot of people who are coming out of jail and need a fresh start. There are employers willing to give them a fresh start. They may need a tank of gas, a first paycheck, or if they need a pair of work boots, we can provide that for people,” she said. “We even have people coming out of recovery who have lost their birth certificates and they need that for an ID to get a job. You don’t realize what people are faced with.”

Miami County’s churches have been an integral part of the Miami County Drug-Free Coalition’s efforts to battle addiction, Justice said. When the coalition formed, Justice, a founding member, wanted to ensure the county’s churches had a seat at the table.

In its early days, members sat down together to identify “gaps in care,” he recalled. The first major gap identified was the lack of a detox facility in Miami County.

Justice explained that most hospitals won’t admit a person who has overdosed unless they have some other medical complication, and that jail was the only place most people could detox.

To address that need, Hope House was opened in January 2017 as a safe detox center for men. When the property was acquired, churches rallied to renovate it, Justice said. Churches like Ginghamsburg Church and Upper Room provided help renovating the building, and New Path Ministries provided furniture through their home furnishing donation program.

Hope House is now open to men and women.

“All of that work on Hope House was done through churches, period,” Justice said.

The coalition identified another gap: there was nowhere in the county for men to go after detox. The coalition worked with Joshua House, a faith-based recovery program with several houses in Montgomery County, to open a facility in Troy. Miami House offers a recovery home for women in the area.

Justice pointed to the county’s declining overdose rate as evidence of the positive impact the coalition has had on the county.

“We have seen some dramatic changes in the last year in terms of overdoses in Miami County,” he said. “We had slightly over 100 in January 2017 and it’s gone down since then. For about the last six or seven months, we’ve had about 30-40 a month, which is the level we were at in 2014.”

By Cecilia Fox

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