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HUNTINGTON - Given the scope of addiction and the deep roots of religion in the region's culture, the clergy find themselves on the front lines of the opioid crisis more often than not.

Although the hundreds of local congregations offer a potentially game-changing breadth of resources, the new reality filled with overdoses, withdrawal, relapse and recovery raises questions to which seminary never taught the answer.

"They're getting into situations every single day without exactly knowing how to react," said Bob Hansen, director of addiction services at Marshall Health, which will host its first of six "Understanding the Epidemic" trainings for local clergy of all faiths Tuesday, Sept. 12. Organized alongside the Faith Community United interfaith group, the two-hour seminar will begin at 10 a.m. at Central Christian Church, located at 1202 5th Ave. in Huntington.

Religious leaders will learn and discuss the toughest questions drug addiction poses, such as whether addiction is or isn't a choice, the difference between helping and enabling, and how local health professionals are handling the issues.

"Our goal is to really work with the clergy and have it spread to the congregations," Hansen said.

Many congregations already operate aid campaigns with varying degrees of commitment, but Hansen said the challenge lies in providing each church, synagogue or mosque with the best knowledge available to do the most efficient, helpful job.

Lyn O'Connell, who organized the seminar with Faith Community United, added that religious leaders have, for the most part, reached a point where they no longer know the next steps to take in making positive impacts.

"They're the people on the front lines dealing with these very vulnerable issues of individuals and families struggling with substance use disorders," said O'Connell, clinical coordinator for Marshall SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment). "The more they know, the better they're going to be able to get people into recovery."

"Understanding the Epidemic" will be followed by a series of followup meetings as part of an ongoing effort to create long-term education for the area's religious community, Hansen said.

The Tuesday seminar is open to all faiths, but only religious leaders, such as pastors, priests, imams and rabbis, may participate. Those interested in participating may contact Faith Community United at, via Facebook at Faith Community United of Huntington, or call Marshall University SBIRT at 304-696-4103.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.


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