Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora held a pastoral conference in May on the growing problem of opioid, prescription and other drug overdoses in the region. The event had a range of speakers who addressed this serious issue and suggested ways to respond.
Speakers included Father Martin X. Moleski, SJ, chaplain of the Calix Society, a support group for recovering alcoholics; Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Naegely; Cheryl Calire, diocesan director of Pro-Life Activities; Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, director of the Response to Love Center in Buffalo; Avi Israel of Save the Michaels of the World Inc., whose son's prescription drug addiction led to his suicide; and Maura Beres, clinical supervisor of Outpatient Chemical Dependency at the Msgr. Carr Institute.
"I am absolutely thrilled with the way it went," said Sue Boyle, community mobilization specialist at WNY United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse and an event organizer. "The point of having the event was to give some good information to people who really have a heart for their community, who are trying to do good things and to give them the information they need, because we are in the middle of an epidemic."
Boyle added that the conference helped attendees gain a better understanding of what is currently going on in Western New York, what addiction is and why 'Just Say No' doesn't work. The conference also offered a better idea of how individuals can help, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, their business or their personal lives.
"The epidemic is a tragedy," Boyle said. "We are losing way too many people, and way too many families are being devastated. There's a lot that can be done on all different levels. I see government stepping up. I see doctors stepping up. I see all of the professionals doing everything they can to help."
Boyle also said the conference was about reaching out to the community, particularly to the church community and to those who are involved in ministries, and talking about what can be done to accompany people on their journey to recovery. He also said it is important to know what can be done to educate the public so the next generation doesn't fall prey to this addiction.
Addiction is an issue that cuts across all boundaries and affects people of all demographic groups, races, socioeconomic statuses and ages, including people in so-called "good families." There is no magic bullet in terms of avoiding the disease of addiction, Boyle reiterated, noting it is important to refer to the problem of addiction as a disease. It is like other illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, in that it can happen anywhere.
"Addiction can happen in any family," Boyle said. "It's up to us to recognize it is a disease and to work toward preventing the disease and to helping people live with it in recovery and go on to have healthy and productive lives."
According to Calire, the issue of opiate and drug addiction is a crucial one for the Pro-Life Office as she already deals with people who have attempted suicide at least partly because of substance abuse, and because it is becoming a common cause of death for Americans. "(We deal with everything) from a pregnant mom who may be addicted, to a family member who has been referred to our office because of an end of life issue," Calire said. "It was really wonderful to be able to collaborate and to springboard rather quickly to get this group together, and do this presentation in a really timely fashion."
Calire said the conference at Christ the King Seminary had the advantages of providing a wide variety of speakers with expert knowledge on the subject of substance abuse, from faith-based counseling to law enforcement, and from different walks of life and different faiths. She said the goal of responding to addiction is to stay proactive, rather than reactive in order to get a step ahead of this epidemic.
"As pro-lifers, we stand to defend human life in all its stages, from natural conception to natural death," Boyle explained further. "Addiction obviously impacts that. Ten people (dying) a week is our average in Erie County right now. It's an unnatural end to life, and as a pro-life community, we can stand together and say, 'We are here to help. We are here to help you have a quality of life, despite the disease that is now a part of your life.' I think it's really an important Catholic thing to be doing, especially in this Year of Mercy."
The event was sponsored by the Diocese of Buffalo, the Office of Pro-Life Activities, the Response to Love Center, the Msgr. Carr Institute, Save the Michaels of the World, and WNY United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse Inc.