MAYS LANDING — Seeking guidance and help from a religious or faith-based leader is common for families and people impacted by addiction.
Join Together Atlantic County coalition co-hosted a Do No Harm drug prevention training to discuss resources, education tools and strategies to help religious leaders better support and help individuals and families who struggle with addiction.
“We know you’re among the first ones people go to for help, and we can help provide the tools you need to understand what addiction is," said Kathy McFadden, program director at JTAC.
The event was hosted with Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, the Drug Enforcement Administration New Jersey Division and the Atlantic County Opiate Task Force.
Heroin and opioid use in New Jersey counties has grown to epidemic proportions, experts say.
Nicholas Kolen, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's state division, has experience tracking and shutting down drug trafficking operations in Mexico and South America. He has never before seen the epidemic in the United States like it is now.
“The problem is actually worse than you even realize,” he said.
In New Jersey, the death rate from drug misuse is triple than the U.S. rate, Kolen said, and the number of people currently addicted to heroin is under-reported.
More than 80 percent of New Jersey adults affiliate themselves with a religious faith, according to the Pew Research Center. And substance misuse prevention and treatment advocates say leaders of congregations and community groups often serve on the front lines of the issue.
Christina Chillem, assistant of community support for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Camden, said she sees many pastors refer people to addiction programs and services at her organization. She wanted more tools to help pastors continue that and better address issues from parents of children with addictions.
Leaders from the Hammonton Family Success Center, the SOAR Church in Woodbine, the Praise Tabernacle Church in Egg Harbor Township, the Northfield Baptist Church and others took down tips and ideas.
Bob Zlotnick, president and executive director at Atlantic Prevention Resources, pointed out scripture from the Old Testament that identified issues with alcoholism even thousands of years ago. He suggested leaders could use a tool called CAGE to open conversation with congregation individuals.
The CAGE tools instructs leaders to ask questions about control and cutting down on substance use, emotions and feelings of guilt, anger or annoyance over usage and the need for “eye-opening” discussion to congregants.
Rebecca Alfaro, deputy director of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, suggested ideas of including church bulletins about addiction prevention education and recovery, possibly holding town meetings and other techniques.
Mariel Hufnagel is now 10 years sober and clean from her addiction to opiates and other drugs. She joined the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence New Jersey organization as a field advocate three years ago.
She now travels to prevention and education events to spread awareness about how people can help support friends, family and neighbors suffering in the current epidemic.
“A lot of times, families don’t know where to go for help and often go to the people they already trust,” she said. “Many of those people have a connection with faith."