With Eyes to See Addiction, Appalachian Churches Respond to the Opioids Crisis

As the toll of overdoses continue to rise, congregations provide recovery, medical care, and redemption.

It was the prayer requests that caught the new minister’s attention. Not long after Lisa Bryant arrived at the Madam Russell United Methodist Church, a historic congregation named for one of the original pioneers in Saltville, Virginia, she began to notice the repetition. The same underlying problem kept rearing up in the needs she heard.

“I got phone calls from some members: ‘Please pray for my grandson, he’s on drugs again,’” she said. “Or someone’s niece would get arrested again.”

Drugs—methamphetamines, oxycontin, heroin, fentanyl—were hiding everywhere in the prayers of the people.

The town of just 2,000 people in southwestern Virginia had almost nothing to help those struggling with addiction. The nearest recovery group was an hour’s drive away. Residential rehab facilities were even farther—out of reach of anyone without a decent income and reliable transportation, which is a lot of people in that part of the country. So Bryant believed that the church, in the Wesleyan spirit of doing all the good you can for all the people you can, could start a recovery group.

It shouldn’t be too hard, she thought. Churches have been hosting 12-step meetings across the country for decades.

She brought the idea to the church council: They should launch a program to help people in Saltville deal with the opioids crisis ravaging the region.

“Everybody was quiet,” Bryant told CT, recalling the moment from five years ago. “Then one guy spoke up and said, ‘We don’t really have that problem here. That doesn’t pertain to us.’”

“Really?” she asked, stunned to tears. “It’s all around us. You …

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