This story was published by Charleston Gazette-Mail
It wasn’t a particular incident that led the bishop of the state’s Episcopal churches to encourage its congregations to stock the overdose-reversing drug naloxone; Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer just hates what the opioid epidemic is doing to West Virginia.
“I hate seeing young people and old people die because of opioids and I hate seeing it destroy our communities and families,” Klusmeyer said.
Klusmeyer made the request last weekend at the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia’s annual convention in Charleston. The bishop asked Episcopal congregations to have at least one person trained in naloxone administration and to have a kit available in the church building. Klusmeyer said his request isn’t a mandate, but an encouragement.
Last year more than 880 people died of overdoses in West Virginia. The state has the highest overdose death rate in the nation.
The Episcopal Church has more than 8,000 members in West Virginia. There are 63 congregations in the state, according to the diocese.
Klusmeyer said the idea is to have naloxone available for members of the surrounding neighborhood who might overdose, but he’s also aware that church members are not exempt from substance abuse problems.
“It’s a human problem, and West Virginia is significantly hard hit,” Klusmeyer said. It’s the role of the church to take a stand and help, he said.
Klusmeyer said he hasn’t gotten naloxone training yet, but he hopes to soon.
“The good news [is], if you give it to someone who isn’t overdosing, it has no effect,” Klusmeyer said. “So if you make a bad call, it’s not deadly.”
Klusmeyer is also president of the West Virginia Council of Churches, which includes 14 denominations across the Mountain State. The council, through its steering committee on substance abuse, has hosted listening events about the opioid epidemic in communities across the state.
The Rev. Jeffrey Allen, executive director of the council, said he doesn’t know of other denominations within the council that have asked its congregations to carry naloxone, but it’s something that the council itself may pursue.
“Particularly in small communities where everyone knows everyone, I think it would be a really effective tool to help people,” Allen said.
Charleston’s St. John’s Episcopal Church, which houses the soup kitchen Manna Meal, has stocked naloxone since earlier this year. So far neither the soup kitchen nor the church has had to use it, said Marquita Hutchens, the church’s rector. Hutchens said she’s supportive of the bishop’s request and so are some addiction counselors who attend the church.
The naloxone that the church has includes audio instructions that make it “beyond simple,” she said.
“It’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned,” Hutchens said. “As rampant as drugs are in this state, I think we should be prepared.”
Reach Lori Kersey at [email protected], 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.