At UMass Dartmouth, faith leaders come together to discuss roles in combating substance abuse



Brian Fraga 

Herald News Staff Reporter

Posted Oct. 14, 2014 @ 8:46 pm


FALL RIVER — Substance abuse crosses all socioeconomic lines, including religion.

“A certain percentage of each church and house of faith has someone either with an addiction or someone whose life has been touched by an addiction in the family,” said the Rev. David Lima, pastor of New Seasons Worship Center in East Freetown.

Lima, who is also the executive minister of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford, was one of several SouthCoast faith leaders who participated in a roundtable discussion Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The forum, hosted by U.S. Rep. William Keating, complemented the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy’s new plan to use faith-based initiatives to work with youth on drug prevention. The roundtable discussion, held in the Claire T. Carney Library, included officials experienced in substance abuse counseling and treatment.

“New England is ground zero on this topic,” UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Divina Grossman said, adding that university professors are researching the various psychological and physiological issues related to substance abuse.
“There is a huge spiritual component to it also,” Grossman said.

The substance abuse counselors told a group of more than two-dozen clergy members from different faith backgrounds that people struggling with addiction, and their relatives, often first seek out their pastors for spiritual support and counseling. Laura Washington, director of Partnership for Success II in Fall River, said that the churches are “aligned” to help people battling substance abuse.

“There are people within your churches that are struggling with this,” Washington said.

The substance abuse statistics are staggering. More than 125,000 Americans have died from opiate overdoses during the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts, Barnstable and Bristol counties have the two highest rates of overdoses, said Keating, who added that, on average, two people die every day in Massachusetts from an overdose.

“We have an enormous problem that has to be dealt with in as many ways as we can,” said Keating, who has introduced legislation to curb prescription drug abuse by making it more difficult to tamper with opioid painkillers.

Besides offering prayer and support, Lima said pastors are often ill-equipped and not prepared to help people dealing with addiction. He called upon the region’s clergy members to build relationships with substance abuse treatment specialists.

“There are things to learn from one another,” said Lima, adding that pastors want to see people healed of addiction, in turn benefiting congregations and the wider community.

“God said in the Bible to treat your neighbor like you want to be treated yourself. We need to be our brother’s keeper,” said Tom Pasternak, a Fall River pharmacist and director of the Building Our Lives Drug-Free Coalition.The Rev. Jerome Chinn, president and co-founder of the Break’n The Chainz Ministries, a faith-based substance abuse recovery program in New Bedford, said accountability and communication are key to helping people.

“We can make a huge impact if we really come together,” Chinn said.