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State Leaders Initiate Faith-Based Programs in Carter County to Combat Opioid Epidemic

There are nearly 12,000 churches and other faith-based organizations across the Volunteer State. Now state leaders are turning to that network for help in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

State leaders hope getting more churches and religious groups on board will help them reach more people and offer more recovery options. So far, around 200 churches are part of this state-wide initiative. About two dozen of those are right here in our area.

Churches have been a long-time sanctuary - a place for repenting, healing and spiritual growth.

Now state leaders are partnering with churches across Tennessee to fight a common battle.

"The faith community as a whole is taking a front seat in this effort to combat addiction," Monty Burks said.

Burks is the director of Faith Based Initiatives with the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The goal is to network with faith-based groups to send out a consistent message.

"If we can get everybody firing on the same page, everybody sharing the same message and talking about addiction, how they combat addiction - I think we can really knock a dent in the opioid epidemic," Burks said.

And dozens in Carter County are answering that call.

"Addiction is something that we can't fight alone," director of the Carter County Drug Prevention Coalition, Jillian Reece said. "Drug coalitions can't do it, hospitals can't do it, physicians can't do it alone."

The churches will offer support groups and more.

"Churches can provide resume writing, food, clothing, transportation to and from meetings," Burks said.

"In order to reach people here in Carter County, you need to go where they're at," therapist Thad Noto. "And a large segment of our population attends churches."

Joshua Scalf leads a Christ-centered recovery program in Elizabethton. A former addict himself, he has been in recovery for seven years. And he credits that recovery to his faith.

"I had faith in Oxycontin. I had faith in cocaine. I had faith in alcohol and when I took it I got high," Scalf said. "But now it's time to have faith in Jesus Christ."

And pastors like Bryan Smith also see the power of faith, and are eager to get involved.

"You can will yourself to do or not to do a lot of things," the pastor of Grace Baptist Church said. "But there is something about certain things that it's going to take something beyond yourself."

So far, state substance abuse leaders have visited 37 of the 95 counties in the Volunteer State to initiate programs. Last year, they came to Washington County. Their next stop will be in Unicoi County this summer.

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