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Clergy encouraged to play active role in battling opioid epidemic

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In what’s being billed as a first-of-a-kind local conference, experts are meeting with clergy members Wednesday in hopes of better preparing them to deal with the opioid epidemic.

The day-long conference at the Newman Center at the University at Buffalo aims to provide clergy with strategies for helping those who have substance abuse disorders and the families of the afflicted.

The Rev. Jan Hubbard, of Hamburg United Methodist Church, is among the speakers. She said the conference being held by the Samaritan Counseling Center is recognition that the religious community needs to play a larger role in grappling with a growing problem.

“We realized that the clergy have really been pretty absent overall -- at least in the media  --in addressing the suffering of people who are struggling with addiction, and particularly with those [affected by] the opioid epidemic,” Hubbard told WBFO.

Conference participants planned to discuss numerous strategies, including the creation of support groups for congregations. Clergy members will also be encouraged to make referrals for counseling and other support services.

“We’re very excited about beginning the conversation with area clergy and hopefully being a catalyst for helping clergy feel comfortable, educated…and empowered to be able to respond to the families in their communities that are really suffering with this,” she said.

The region has been hard by the opioid crisis. In December alone, Erie County reported at least 42 suspected opioid overdose deaths. The U.S. Surgeon General recently released a report indicating that 90 percent of people who struggle with addiction problems are receiving no treatment whatsoever.

The Samaritan Counseling Center has provided human services in 15 satellite locations across the region for the past six decades.

The conference was funded in part by the Lutheran Church Extension Society.       

WBFO's Brandon Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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