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Catholic Charities helps build parish response to opioid crisis

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Members of the Parish Liaison Network and parishioners gathered at St. John Neumann Church in Reston April 29 to learn how to respond to the opioid crisis in their own parishes.

The meeting, hosted by diocesan Catholic Charities, opened with prayer by Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Robert A. Mancini, parochial vicar. Art Bennett, president and CEO of diocesan Catholic Charities, provided an overview of what parishes can do and the role of Catholic Charities.

“Parishes are the heart, prayer is the soul, anyone can help but without prayer we will fail,” said Bennett.

Judy Wetzel, whose son died from opioids, and Margo Chavez, volunteer manager, provided an overview of Prayer Warrior Teams and how to set one up in their parishes. Wetzel encouraged attendees to provide the email — hopenotopioids@ccda.net — to gather prayer requests. “Our hope is that through prayer we will be successful, that more people will be in recovery than those passing away,” Wetzel said. “We will send out prayer requests monthly. It will help our families, it will help all those people with addictions and it will help those people who are incarcerated.”

Mike Smith, a volunteer at St. John Neumann and a recovering alcoholic who attended AA in Chicago, said Susan Infeld, a parish nurse at St. John Neumann, helped him get his Catholic faith aligned with the recovery programs. “They’ve been on parallel paths but hadn’t been integrated before,” he said. “All sorts of grace has been happening since we started the addiction response program at the parish.”

John Palaszczuk, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Herndon, was inspired by the speakers. “I’m involved a little with the Welcome Home Re-entry Program and I’ve seen how addiction puts people in places where they don’t want to be,” he said. “Putting the faith together with the need is a very good thing Catholic Charities does. One of the messages I got today loud and clear is you have to let God be a part of the help and that’s what makes it happen.”

Infeld spoke about the parish response and supporting families with addictions.  She said the ministry is a select group of parishioners committed to helping individuals and families suffering from disease of addiction. Members are endorsed by the pastor and parish nurse, and include a nurse, social worker, two members from 12-step communities, and a member of the Welcome Home Re-Entry prison ministry program.

The program at St. John Neumann focuses on all phases and aspects of addiction. They receive no fees for their service or provide any endorsements, and respect confidentiality, according to Infeld.

Sandi Sale, a nurse, social worker and addiction expert, shared her background working with addicts in hospitals and prisons. She encouraged attendees to not forget to be there for the families of the addicts. “Our responsibility is to be there for them also,” she said. “It has to be a joint effort.”

Sale said the effort must happen quickly. “The thing that’s most frustrating is that you have a millisecond to catch that addict,” she said. “The best thing we have to offer is ourselves and we have to connect with them as quickly as humanly possible.”

Frank Moncher, coordinator of Victim Assistance, provided attendees with nationwide diocesan trends and spoke about the role the Diocese of Arlington can play.

Bennett said in his opening presentation that 80 percent of the problems with addictions start with doctors giving prescriptions and opioids became radically accessible, said Bennett. “Clinicians, when they talk to families, they ask if anyone had a major operation in the last two years. They probably got prescriptions to opioids,” Bennett said.

Unused prescriptions and over the counter drug may be dropped off at drug stores and fire houses. St. John Neumann offered zipper bags that dispose of the opioids safely. 

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The next meeting will be Aug. 7 at Good Shepherd Church, 8710 Mount Vernon Hwy., Alexandria.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019