Using Faith to Fight the Drug Epidemic


By Kimberly Kerr, SNJ Today Reporter


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Organizations are coming together in Atlantic County to fight a problem plaguing the Garden State, the drug epidemic.

“In October, I lost a really close friend from school and it just rocked my world. I couldn’t believe that he died of heroin,” expressed Christina Smith of Egg Harbor Township.

“We have a serious problem in Atlantic County. We have the strongest heroin in the state, the cheapest heroin in the state, people dying every day of overdoses, Narcan reversal every day,” explained Robert Zlotnick, executive director of Atlantic Prevention Resources.

“The statistics are unreal and this is our area, this is Atlantic County, this is where we live and we need to be aware of what’s going on so we can take action when we opportunity,” said Pastor Tom Douglass

So members of the Partnership for a Drug Free Jersey invited members of faith-based organizations to participate in a discussion on opiate abuse.

“If somebody is having an issue in their family with addiction they may, due to the stigma, not know who to reach out to. So they may reach out to their faith leader because it’s somebody they have trust with,” said Angela Conover, director of media, marketing, and community relations for the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey.

Thursday was all about getting those leaders the right information to help members of their community who are coming to them for help.

“So the idea was to bring in the clergy and educate them on what’s going on in the current trend in Atlantic County as well as South Jersey,” said Laurie Smith, community initiatives coordinator for Atlantic Prevention Resources and coordinator for Join Together Atlantic County.

“We don’t have a background of this medical stuff they’re talking about. So it’s very important for us to know what the problem is, how we can deal with people that come our way and to love them in the name of Jesus,” said Douglass.

So the different speakers educated the leaders in attendance on how to deal with certain situations.

“The partnership puts on these symposiums in different parts of New Jersey in hopes of getting faith-based leaders aware of not only addiction, because the picture of addiction is kind of clear, but what can be done to prevent it, to intervene and to support recovery,” explained Mariel Hufnagel, an advocacy field organizer for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – New Jersey.

The partnership hopes events like this one can help the many suffering from the drug epidemic in not only Atlantic County but throughout the entire Garden State.