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Ohio board teams with pastors to improve identification of treatment clients

September 29, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Spiritual leaders are seeing widespread need in their congregations

Communities such as Franklin County, Ohio are learning that the demand for substance use services doesn’t stop when government funding support gets shifted to other priorities. The county’s Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board has reached out to pastors in the Columbus area for some assistance in identifying the highest-need members of local congregations who could be referred for treatment services.

Dialogue at a faith-based leaders’ breakfast that was held in May highlighted the need for more education of spiritual leaders in what resources are available in the community and how to address certain issues around substance use. David Royer, director of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, says many pastors are seeing an influx of individuals recently affected by the weak economy as well as those who have cycled through the service system before and may have limited options for treatment.

Out of the breakfast came the idea for training sessions for pastors, with the first held in September at the Maryhaven treatment facility. The idea is not to turn faith leaders into substance use professionals, Royer says, but to assist them in understanding the signs and symptoms of substance use disorders so that they can help in the effort to triage individuals for services.

“We don’t get too technical in the training,” says Royer. “We keep it within the context of the pastors’ hands-on work.”

The outreach effort on the board’s part began with the community’s African-American churches, but Royer says the board has a broader vision to establish a partnership with all of the faith communities in the county. The board would like to establish a formal faith-based advisory council, he says.

With faith leaders seeing service to their congregants in need as central to their churches’ mission, Royer believes treatment organizations need to see these individuals as partners, particularly in times of declining government support for human services. He advises communities elsewhere to reach out to key members of the faith community and to take an inventory of these individuals’ needs.

“Always start by listening,” Royer says.