By Jano Tantongco
Around 1,200 people, some clergy, others educational and community leaders, and many of whom have been affected by opioid abuse, came out to St. Anthony’s High School last Wednesday for the first meeting of a “covenant” formed by local clergy to help tackle Long Island’s opioid epidemic.
“When the event began, there was a real energy in the room,” said Rev. Gideon Pollach, a rector at St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor, and one of the clergy leaders behind Long Island Covenant to End the Opioid Epidemic.
The ongoing project was started by clergy members who were distraught at being the last in the chain of the treatment process, so they decided to take a more proactive approach. Last week’s event was meant to establish a community agreement that addresses the opioid epidemic.
Pollach said that the testimonials and stories told at the event helped spur an excitement to commit to ending the epidemic.
He said there were two parallel initiatives that would be undertaken.
First, 23 congregations of churches and synagogues are starting “listening campaigns” to listen to and gather the stories of how their members have been touched by the ravages of opioid addiction. Also, volunteers will be identified throughout the congregations to help others in times of mental health crises.
The second initiative involves a broad campaign among school districts to encourage prevention while bolstering peer-to-peer support for those who are affected by addiction in some way.
M.J. Fitzgerald, district governor of Rotary International, attended the event, which she called “amazing.”
“We know the battle will be long and difficult but we all have to continue to work together and merge our efforts to be effective,” she said.
She added that figures like superintendents, principals, counselors and Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini were on hand to make firm commitments to combat the “deadly scourge.”
Suffolk has gained the notorious distinction in recent years as the leading county for opioid overdose deaths in New York State. In 2016, there were 303 deaths attributed to opioid overdoses, with 14 so far this year as of April 1, according to the Suffolk County’s Medical Examiner’s office.
At the covenant’s next major event on Oct. 26, members will converge once again to check in on their progress in their projects. The location of the meeting had not yet been set as of deadline Wednesday.
Locally, St. John’s Church will welcome experts Dr. Leslie Merino and Lloyd Federer, faculty members at Columbia University, to speak on research and support for mental health and addiction on May 15, 7:30 p.m.