Fatal addictions to drugs, particularly heroin and opiates, have impacted Western New York in a big way this year, as about 11 people are dying each week from overdoses. Just as Erie County officials have stepped up their efforts to curb the rapid increase in substance abuse, faith leaders are organizing a pastoral conference in response to the epidemic at Christ the King Seminary on May 14.
The statistics and demographics in substance abuse overdoses, as reported in The Buffalo News, are staggering. Erie County is on pace to face the deaths of 570 people from heroin addiction this year. It is an issue that has impacted every race, every neighborhood and every income level.
"Addiction is a disease," said Sister Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, of the Response to Love Center. "Now with the uprising of drugs and addiction, it's a scourge in society. In my past, as I've met with addicts, there were times I approached them and other times I waited. Addiction is a painful process but the keys are compassion and concern for the addict. I've met CEOs and white-collar professionals, youth, homeless, whose aroma lingers after they leave my office. They all smell like the same thing: hunger, thirst, longing, craving and forgiveness."
The free conference will help participants understand and learn about the substance abuse epidemic, gain skills to engage and assist those who are suffering, and share concerns to plan for better days. It is intended for people, especially parish workers and volunteers, who know of or encounter individuals dealing with their own demons. The conference is open to all faiths (and even no faith) as attendees learn how to help those in dire need.
"I've learned to listen with the ear of my heart, to the stories they tell, and sometimes I feel helpless and they feel hopeless," said Sister Johnice, who strongly encouraged therapy for those suffering from addiction. "My goal with the addict is to be a Christ-like presence and teach them the forgiveness and unconditional love of God. As a pastoral person, all I can do is to mention it because I'm not a counselor, but if a person is sincere in wanting to recover, is that it takes time. It can take a lifetime. You're never free from the addiction. Once you start, it's the beginning of the end."
Speakers at the conference include Sister Johnice, Father Marty Moleski of Calix, Aaron Naegely of the Erie County Sheiff's Department, Cheryl Calire of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, Avi Israel of Save the Michaels of the World, and other substance abuse treatment and prevention professionals.
The conference, set to run from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. on May 14, is sponsored by the Diocese of Buffalo, the Office of Pro-Life Activities, Response to Love Center, Save the Michaels of the World and WNY United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse Inc.
For more information or to register for the conference, email Beth Milks at firstname.lastname@example.org.