Conference on Substance Abuse Coming to Princeton

By Colleen Rowan
PRINCETON—Creating Connections for Healing Conference on Substance Abuse this month will be held in Princeton. Set to be held at the Chuck Mathena Center Nov. 16, the conference will focus upon the faith community’s possible responses to the current drug crisis plaguing the state. The conference is being sponsored by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s Department of Social Ministries, Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa) and the West Virginia Council of Churches. As the conference comes to a region of the state that has been hard hit by the opioid crisis, conference planners hope that the gathering will help reduce stigma so that this healing can occur.
“I am exited that we are addressing it as a faith-based community and as a faith-based initiative,” said Gina Boggess, who is one of several planning the conference. “We really want to come together as a community and figure out how to address it.”
Bogess, who is a member of local and state boards of CCWVa and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Princeton, said a perfect storm of events brought the crisis to this part of the state — the continuing decline of the coal industry, and loss of job security have caused many in the region to turn to substance abuse.
This past summer, West Virginians learned the grim news that the state leads the nation in drug overdose death rates. With an average of 57.8 deaths per 100,000 residents, the state’s drug fatality rate was nearly three times higher than the national average which is 21.7. The numbers were released in mid June through a study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, covering the year 2017.
In a letter to clergy of the southern region, Father Sebastian E. Devasya, administrator of Sacred Heart parishes in Bluefield and Princeton, said that this crisis has affected everyone in the region. “None of us, nor our congregations, have remained unscathed by the opioid addiction in our communities,” he said in the letter. “It has impacted families, churches, workplaces, economies, crime rates and the basic love, faith and trust in our fellow man. It is of critical importance that we all come together to initiate dialogue and determine how we, as faith-based communities, can address the needs of individuals and families battling the unyielding grip of addiction. These are disheartening and challenging times to say the least, but we are called to rise-up, listen, teach, lead and accompany our congregations as we explore ways to minister to those who are touched either directly or indirectly by this crisis.”
“It is our fervent hope,” Father DeVasya said in the letter, “that this interfaith gathering will be the first step in learning about dependence its devastation and how we need to educate ourselves and congregations concerning the broad scope of addiction and recovery.”
Three main points of the conference will be that 1) the use of alcohol, tobacco, opiates, and other substances cause changes to the brain; 2) the brain can heal; and 3) healing takes place in community.
The keynote presenter will be Dr. Derek Wilson, chairperson of the Mercer County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. Additional presentations will come from Marissa Sanders, director of the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Parents Network, who will speak about what congregations can do to aid those involved in kinship care because of the opioid epidemic; and Leon and Bradley Brush who will talk about their family’s journey to creating two recovery homes in the region for those dealing with substance use disorder. Information tables featuring different organizations will also be available, including Nick Webb of Recovery Point West Virginia. There also be a table discussion near the end of the conference.
“We pray this gathering will explain why we need to treat addiction as a disease, inform the attendees on ways congregations can respond to the opioid crisis, and enable those attending to establish contacts with each other so that there can be an ongoing effort among southern WV faith communities,” said Father Brian O’Donnell, S.J. executive director of the Department of Social Ministries.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous rightly call addiction a spiritual disease, said Very Rev. Paul Wharton, V.F., pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Beckley.
“People try to satisfy a spiritual hunger and thirst with something that fails to satisfy,” he said. “Many people wrongly believe that addicts are bad people who need to act better. The truth is they are sick people who need to get well again. The miracle stories of Jesus have much to say about addiction. The Gospels remind us again and again that with God, all things are possible.  People in recovery often say that God did for them what they could not do for themselves.”
The conference begins with presentations at 9:30 a.m., and ends at 3:30 p.m. Cost will be $5 (unless you are a student). Lunch will be provided. Registration must be made by Nov. 14. Register by calling Christy Ramsey at (304) 380-0155 or; or at conference/