Tennessee Turns To Churches In Helping Fight Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 08/11/16

As Tennessee battles a surge of hepatitis cases brought on by intravenous drug use, state officials are turning to the church to help combat the drug epidemic.

Tennessee Turns To Churches In Helping Fight Addiction

Desperate to help curb the ongoing drug addiction problem in Tennessee, local leaders are now turning to churches throughout the state for assistance.

Local news outlet WCYB reported that at least 10 churches in the Johnson City region have teamed up to address the issue. Currently, around 125 churches throughout the state offer some form of recovery program. But state politicians want to utilize the more than 12,000 churches across Tennessee who could step in to help. These state leaders have been reaching out to churches in the hopes that they’ll help build more recovery networks and raise awareness of the state’s drug problem.

“Strategically, churches and faith-based organizations are located in all 95 counties. They're the only single entity that we have that's located from Memphis to Mountain City,” said Monty Burks of the Tennessee Department of Substance Abuse Services. “They can share the messages, attend these types of meetings, get that info and share it with their congregation who will share it with someone else, who will share it with someone else.”

In recent years, Tennessee has been grappling with a surge in hepatitis B cases. Findings released in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Tennessee had seen a 114% increase in these cases between 2009 and 2013. Intravenous drug use was the primary cause from 2010 onward, compromising 75% of all new cases. In addition, rates of hepatitis C tripled between 2006 and 2012.

Churches uniting on drug-related issues can create a truly powerful statement. The New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, representing over 600 churches, formally called for an end to the War on Drugs in July 2015. Their resolution declared that “to people of color, the War on Drugs has arguably been the single most devastating, dysfunctional policy since slavery.” 

One month earlier, a group of Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis launched Clergy for a New Drug Policy, which works to help support drug policy reform. Their agenda is to end the War on Drugs by allocating resources to education, treatment, and public safety.

"My position is that it’s more important for us to be healing these people,” said Rev. Tom Capo, pastor of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, Illinois, last June. “We need to offer them assistance, drug rehab, so they can put their lives back together. Putting them in prison does not stop people from using drugs. It just isolates them from the rest of society.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.