Faith leaders respond to opiate crisis Print this post

By Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


The effects of the opiate epidemic are staggering with drug overdose as the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. To respond to this crisis, the Diocese of Venice, along with Sarasota Ministerial Association, Drug Free Sarasota, the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, the Sarasota Police Department, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, gathered Sept. 6 at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota for an Opiate Crisis Clergy Conference.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane offers the opening prayer during the Opiate Crisis Clergy Conference on Sept. 6 at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane offered the opening prayer for the Conference, which encompassed more than 100 clergy of all faiths and included Diocesan priests from a dozen Sarasota and Manatee county parishes.

The educational gathering also served as a call to action to help end this scourge that affects many people each day.

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino during the Opiate Crisis Clergy Conference on Sept. 6 at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota.

“This is the scourge of our day,” Bishop Dewane said. “This is an important gathering because this epidemic of addiction is destroying lives and families… it is important to have the tools necessary to minister, to reach out and to help members of the community who need us.”


The Bishop noted that clergy, with training, are better capable of helping those who are suffering from addiction or those who know and love someone who is struggling, because there is a level of trust. “Building upon that trust and assisting in any way they can, the clergy can make a real difference,” he concluded.

P.J. Brooks, Director of First Step, a non-profit substance abuse center with detox, residential and outpatient programs throughout the area, explained how the impact of the opiate epidemic began and how difficult it is to break the cycle of addiction.


“The numbers of overdoses and people needing help has exploded in recent years,” Brooks explained. With children experimenting with drugs and alcohol from the age of 10 or younger, the challenges are great.”

Brooks shared several examples of how easily addiction can take over someone’s life and what can be done to help them along the way. “There is no one easy answer. It will take a concerted effort from all of us to make a real difference in lives of the people we see every day.”

Others speakers included Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Col. Kurt Hoffman who both shared poignant stories about what first responders face on a daily basis when responding to calls for assistance.

“Enforcement alone is not going to solve this problem,” Col. Hoffman said. “We are not going to be able to arrest our way out… so we have developed a four-step plan to address this opiate crisis.”

Those steps include prevention, education, enforcement and treatment, which can only be effective through the partnership with support organizations, including area churches and religious congregations. Because the problem is severe, deputies now carry emergency medication to help counteract the effects of an overdose.

Chief DiPino stressed that when someone is overdosing there will be no charges brought against those who call for help. Too often people are dropped off at emergency rooms which causes an unnecessary and sometime tragic delay in treatment.

The Conference also focused on a sharing of information and resources from representatives of several area non-profits that deal directly with addiction response and recovery. The clergy were also asked to share what they learned with their congregations and to commit to praying and taking action when called upon to confront the ongoing opiate crisis head-on.

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