Disciples News Service

West Virginia congregation responds to opioid crisis

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, West Virginia is home to “the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids.” According to Johns Hopkins University, 20 percent of the overdoses in West Virginia in 2017 happened in Cabell County.

This is the community in which Central Christian Church and Rev. Jacquè Compton serve. Central CC is in downtown Huntington – the county seat and largest city in Cabell County.

It’s no surprise, then, that Central and Rev. Compton feel called to respond to the opioid epidemic in their community. “It really has become part of the culture here,” Compton explains.

Much of Central’s work has been through community partnerships. “We need to get out of the mindset that ‘we need to have the bigger, better project,’” Compton argues. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of different things. The most important thing to do is work together.”

Rev. Compton serves on the diversity teams of both the mayor’s office and Marshall University, and is an active member of Faith Community United, a local group that focuses on the opioid crisis through community education.

The mayor’s office “immediately reached out to the faith community for support and guidance,” in their drug control response, remembers Jan Rader, chief of Huntington’s fire department.  “Ever since, they’ve been a vital part of our community coming together and turning the tide.”

Dr. Lyn O’Connell, Associate Director of Community Services in the Division of Addiction Sciences at Marshall University Medical Center, celebrates Central’s work. “In any community, but especially in Appalachia, churches are at the center. They’re often the first to rally around a community member who is sick and provide both food and emotional support. This should be no different when it comes to substance use disorders. The efforts by Faith Community United, and the leadership of Central CC, help ensure that congregations feel equipped to help those with any disease or chronic condition, such as addiction.”

Through these efforts, Rev. Compton felt a specific call to work more closely with first responders. “Our first responders were completely overwhelmed,” she says. “We knew they needed self-care, and that we could help shape their responses to overdoses, with more compassion, instead of being more calloused, desensitized to it.”

Central Christian supports city efforts for first responders in Huntington, with plans to offer more opportunities for self-care. The congregation’s college student group bakes cookies to take to first responders at work.

In a town facing so much trauma, the Church has a vital role to play, Compton declares.

“We’re called to proclaim the Good News. In a community constantly getting bad news, we need to be very careful about how we use the Gospel. If we’re not giving hope, well, people don’t have any left. So, our responsibility is to breathe life back into people who might not have any left. It’s our job to help breathe the spirit of God back into them.”