Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Seminary Students Learn Overdose Prevention for Future Ministry

Seminary Students Learn Overdose Prevention for Future Ministry
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.

"How long do you have to wait before you can administer a second dose?" and "Does it hurt them if it wasn't an overdose?" are just a couple of many questions asked by students from Wesley Theological Seminary in the Pastoral Care and Counseling course, Addiction Recovery Ministry. Most of us have heard about opioid overdoses and the results. This class provided instruction for pastors and similar caregivers on how to handle such situations. Students heard personal stories of opioid addiction and about parents' worries about teen or family members overdose problems. 

Two people at a table, working on a relapse prevention plan
[Two students drafting a relapse prevention plan]

Students also learned how to prepare for such occurrences. "Every church should have Narcan (a nasal spray that can counteract an overdose), because it can save lives if administered in time." This need is part of the community context for many clergy, as pastoral care is often given for church members and those who are served by the ministry programs at some churches.

Narcan can also be given to the parents who express concern about their family member's drug use, or at least be given a coupon to take to a pharmacy in order to purchase the medication. Students learned that some local health departments carry the life-saving medication and that referrals can be shared with the parents. In some states, Naloxone, the generic version, is sometimes available through the mail, for free. Contact Naloxoneforall.org for information. Also, check here for a list of states that permit distribution by mail. 

Students also received instruction about what signs to look for when it comes to opioid overdose, such as eyes rolling back, bluish lips or fingernails (due to the lack of oxygen), and being sedated (sleepy). In addition, when calling 911 for a suspected overdose, it is sometimes best to state that the person is unresponsive rather than assuming that they are having a possible overdose. Church leaders, particularly those who lead Bible studies or youth groups, who oversee food pantries, and the like, along with others are encouraged to participate in annual or bi-annual trainings, which can be as simple as overdose prevention education that explains what opioid emergencies look like.

Several students in groups of two, sitting at tables, listing addiction signs
[Students listing signs of addiction]

While some people receive Narcan or Naloxone in time, the unfortunate reality is many do not.  83% of opioid-related deaths are accidental. According to the makers of Narcan, mainstream America is at risk, as 60 million Americans received an opioid prescription in 2016. Click here to read more recent overdose statistics by state.

Another aspect to opioid, heroin, or fentanyl overdoses (deaths) is the grief and loss that occurs. With this in mind, a funeral director addressed the class as a guest speaker to share insights about funerals related to overdoses. Pastoral and congregational care was emphasized in class discussions. Students also practiced pastoral care skills in mock scenarios. Along with these, overdose aftercare (for overdose survivors) and having raw conversations are needed (e.g. do not use alone or behind locked doors). These may involve the survivor directly, as well as parents or other family members.
Two people at corner tables face each other and talk about an assignment
[Two students discussing an assignment]
Encouraging faith communities to become recovery churches sometimes begins with the pastor or minister. These seminary students are learning this through their in-class conversations, their studies, and their class paper. While August 31st is International Overdose Prevention Day and September is National Recovery Month, these needs can be observed any day of the year and done often. 
Instructor in foreground, students standing behind tables in a group portrait
[Image Description: Students and their professor posing for a class selfie.]

Rev. Leo Yates, Jr., LCPC 
Consultant, Global Ministries United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries
Secretary, Council of Bishops DisAbility Ministries Committee
Secretary, Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling United Methodists
Associate Pastor, Emmanuel United Methodist Church

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