How Faith-Based Community Can Help Fight Opioid Crisis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - The prescription drug addiction epidemic in Shelby County is intensifying, with new record highs for 5 straight years for overdose deaths involving opioids. As politicians and doctors grapple with the issue and work to lessen the impact, they're also calling on faith leaders to help.

Local 24's Brad Broders was the only reporter to listen in at a substance abuse forum Thursday. The state's medical director for Substance Abuse Services said faith organizations are a valuable and largely untapped resource in fighting addiction and supporting treatment.

The issue for Doctor Stephen Loyd isn't just his profession, it's personal. He spent 3 years hooked on prescription pain killers, and now, 13 years clean, Dr. Loyd uses his own cautionary tale as a broader call to action.

"Whenever you reach out and touch your fellow man, it always helps you inside,” says Loyd.

Every week, Dr. Loyd crisscrosses the state and hammers the same message home in the fight against substance abuse, including prescription drugs.

"The faith-based community. It's the biggest resource we have,” says Dr. Loyd. “It's low cost, high impact."

With 4 million people in Tennessee who identify with a faith-based community, medical experts said places of worship can also be places of healing and hope for those battling addiction.

"If you can get that community on board and reduce that stigma and allow people to ask for help, you can start to bend the curve,” says Dr. Loyd.

“Any kind of health begins with your mindset,” says Bishop William Young of The Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church.

And it’s that mindset to help and heal for Bishop Young which inspired his church to open an addiction clinic early next year in Memphis’ Oakhaven area.

"It takes away the stigma and also you gain greater accessibility to services,” says Bishop Young.

"We just need to put a face on it because it's not just the person sitting on the street, it's the ones walking around in suits just like you and I,” says Craig Elliott, a drug & alcohol abuse counselor.

“The hardest thing is stepping out and asking for help and then to have people to receive you, that are going to meet you no matter where you are,” says Dr. Loyd.  "The crisis continues to worsen. We need to increase our resources to help people get treatment.”

That challenge is increasingly difficult with prescription painkillers. Dr. Loyd said 70% of people began their addiction after getting free medication from friends or family.

Thursday's forum comes as the Shelby County Mayor and Shelby County Chairman are battling in court over who has the power to legally challenge big pharma to cut down on overdose deaths.

For that, Dr. Loyd offered this advice. "The more of this we do and the less we do of fighting each other, the better off we are going to be."


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